The 2012 election season is full of political discourse, polite and not-so polite. But three elections that will appear on the Flathead County ballot have the distinction of not involving politics whatsoever.
There are three Flathead County District Court judge seats up for vote this year, and the candidates are nonpartisan by law. On May 9, the candidates for District Court District 11 Departments 1, 2 and 3 gathered at Glacier High School for a forum hosted by the Northwest Montana Bar Association.
The candidates will be on the June 5 primary election ballot, with the top two vote-getters in each department moving on to the general election in November. In Department 1, incumbent Judge Ted O. Lympus is running unopposed.
In Department 2, attorney Bruce Frederickson, attorney Robert Allison and Department 1 Justice of the Peace Daniel Wilson are vying for Judge Katherine Curtis’ seat. Curtis is retiring this year.
Judge Stewart Stadler is also retiring from his position in Department 3, and Kalispell Municipal Judge Heidi Ulbricht and attorney Vanessa Ceravolo will face off for his seat at the bench. Since Department 2 only has two candidates, both the candidates move on to the general election.
At the May 9 forum, a panel of attorneys and Judge Curtis asked the candidates questions about how long they plan on taking to issue decisions, making the courts more efficient, what their strengths and weaknesses are and how they view judicial temperament.
Wilson, a justice of the peace, worked as deputy county attorney both in Great Falls and the Flathead, and in 1998 started his own practice covering a broad area of law, including criminal and civil matters.
He believes his biggest strength as a judge is “humility before the law,” which allows him to understand that the law must apply as it is written and lawyers cannot bend the laws to fit their cases. Wilson believes his weakness is struggling with patience for people who “refuse to get to the point.”
Frederickson first began his studies in pharmacy, but took up law at the University of North Dakota. He spent 20 years with the Crowley Law Firm and now works with Kalvig and LeDuc, giving him civil trial practice.
For strengths, Frederickson said he is qualified, experienced and has a strong work ethic. He said his weakness is that he has not focused a lot on family and criminal law, but that he is a “very fast study.”
Allison is a fourth-generation Flathead Valley resident, who, after receiving his law degree from the University of Montana in 1975, worked as a public defender and in private civil cases. He spent over 30 years as a public defender and believes that experience gives him one of his strengths, which is an insight into people, and he rarely gets irritable or cranky.
Allison said his weakness is that he has relatively little experience in some parts of the law.
Ulbricht has been Kalispell’s municipal judge for 18 years. She received her law degree from the University of Idaho and started her legal career as a law clerk 24 years ago. She moved into insurance defense, and was then voted onto the bench.
Ulbricht deals largely with adult and juvenile misdemeanors, and also runs the DUI and Drug Court, as well as the Domestic Violence Accountability Court. Her strengths are her experience on the bench and her leadership, Ulbricht said, and her weakness is that she “may be considered boring” because she is so consistent.
Ceravolo graduated from Flathead High School in 1976 and went to undergraduate and law school at the University of Montana. She was part of the ROTC, and after law school reported for duty at the University of Virginia to learn military law.
Eventually, she was stationed in Hawaii, in charge of legal services for thousands of soldiers, Ceravolo said. She returned to Montana in 1992 after serving abroad and began her private law and mediation practice, with a focus on civil and family matters. One of her strengths is that, as a mediator, she has the experience of looking at cases from all angles and fairly. Her weakness is that she can sometimes work too hard at making sure people feel everything is fair, she said.
As for the other questions from the panel, the candidates largely agreed on their answers. Rulings should be made from the bench whenever possible and case backlogs should be avoided, they said, and the court can be more efficient with technology in the courtrooms and through determining which civil cases can be decided through mediation.
Proper judicial temperament should include patience, understanding, empathy, respect and the ability to make impartial decisions, the candidates said.
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