Flathead County has two justices of the peace working the courtrooms in Justice Court. The Department 1 seat has only two candidates this election, while Department 2 collected four.
Justice of the peace has an array of duties in the courtroom, ranging from performing marriages to ruling in Small Claims Court to issuing search warrants.
Incumbent Mark Sullivan, Eric Hummel, Paul Sullivan and Travis Bruyer will be on the June 8 ballot for Department 2.
Mark Sullivan enters the race three and a half years into his first term as Justice of the Peace and feels that he has lived up to the role well.
Sullivan grew up in Whitefish and moved south to work the oil fields. When that started to taper, he went back to school, earning his law degree from the University of Arkansas. He was a private practice attorney before being elected justice of the peace.
Sullivan said he is proud of starting night court sessions for those who cannot make it to court during regular working hours, as well as working to eliminate the civil case backlog in Department 2.
When sentencing someone, Sullivan said he takes the poor economy into consideration and looks for options other than large fines, such as community service.
Justice Court handles DUI offenders up to their third DUI, and Sullivan believes the current drug court system is working effectively. Though he would like to impose harsher sentences on these offenders, jail space is limited, Sullivan said.
There are alternative ways to handle sentencing, Sullivan said, and he believes Justice Court is currently working the way it should.
“Everyone who appears with me is treated with fairness and dignity,” Sullivan said. “I am not without compassion when it’s appropriate.”
Kalispell attorney Eric Hummel has worked a variety of jobs in the legal profession, ranging from a law clerk for a Montana Supreme Court justice to a deputy county attorney for Flathead County.
“What I bring as an attorney is a broad-based legal experience to handle the wide variety of legal cases that can appear before the justice of the peace,” Hummel said.
If elected to the Department 2 seat, Hummel said he would like to expand the night court hours and possibly hold court in Bigfork or Columbia Falls to accommodate people in those areas.
Hummel said his breadth of experience in the legal field would help when dealing with defense attorneys, the prosecution and law enforcement to work out solutions for repeat drunk drivers.
He said he would like to create a new drug and DUI court for Justice Court and incorporate more technology in sentencing, such as alcohol monitoring bracelets.
A major part of being justice of the peace is understanding that it is the people’s court, Hummel said.
“I think people deserve patience and respect,” Hummel said. “I can remember the first judge I ever worked for saying, ‘Every case is important.’”
Bigfork attorney Paul Sullivan said he works on any case that walks through his door. This means using his law school degree from University of Pennsylvania for a variety of cases for the past two years.
“I think it’s a huge advantage because that’s what the Justice Court does,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted that Justice Court is one line of defense against drunk drivers in the Flathead, and the best way to handle repeat offenders is to make a strong stand early on.
“We can’t just put everyone in jail that comes through the doors, there’s just not the money,” Sullivan said. “There are ways to still punish these people.”
Sullivan said he understands that everyone is entitled to his or her day in court and that they should be treated with respect. He is confident his law knowledge can compare with any other attorney.
“And more than that, I know what people in this valley think was justice is,” Sullivan said.
As the only non-lawyer candidate running for the job, Travis Bruyer brings 13 years of law enforcement experience to the table.
This gives him an advantage, Bruyer said, because he has dealt with an array of cases and has had to be unbiased in his work in the U.S. Coast Guard, Helena Police Department and Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.
“When it comes down to it, you have to have passion for the work,” Bruyer said. “I really have a broad experience in what it means to understand both sides of the dispute.”
Bruyer said most cases in Justice Court involve drug- or alcohol-influenced decisions, and he would pursue alternative sentencing if elected. There’s a balance between keeping public threats behind bars and punishing non-threatening offenders while letting them remain productive, Bruyer said.
He said he hopes to implement more technology into sentencing repeat DUI offenders, but does not want to start multiple, costly new programs. Bruyer also said he would work to ensure there are no backlogs in Justice Court.
“A judge needs to be able to provide a courtroom where everyone gets their day in court,” Bruyer said. “They want to know that they’re going to be heard.”
Justice of the peace is a non-partisan position. The two candidates receiving the most votes on June 8 will move on to the general election in November.
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