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ELECTION 2018: 20th Judicial District Court Judge

 

Ben Janciaux

NAME: Ben Anciaux

EDUCATION: Graduated from Bigfork High School, 1971; University of Montana, bachelor's degree in History and Political Science, 1978; University of Montana School of Law, Juris Doctor, 1981

FAMILY: I was married to my high school sweetheart, Laura, in 1975. We have 3 sons; Aaron, Brian and Kyle. Brian deceased in 2008 auto accident.

OCCUPATION: Deputy County Attorney, Lake County.

EXPERIENCE: 1981 to 1986 - Deputy County Attorney, Richland County and private civil law practice. As Deputy County Attorney, I handled criminal prosecutions, abused and neglected children proceedings, juvenile delinquency petitions, commitment proceedings and guardianships among other things. As a private attorney, I represented a credit union. I also represented individuals in dissolutions and other family law matters.

1986 to 2015 - Private civil law practice and contract public defender. As a private attorney I filed and defended civil litigants outside and in tribal, state and federal courts in bankruptcies, dissolutions, collections, contracts, wills, probate, personal injury, landlord tenant, real estate, incorporations, family law and other areas. As a contract public defender, I represented people accused of felonies and misdemeanors, the parents and children in abused or neglected children cases, the juvenile in juvenile delinquency cases and respondents in commitment proceedings.

2015 to present - Deputy Lake County Attorney. I prosecute felony charges in District Court against adults and felony and misdemeanor charges against juveniles in youth court. I represent the state in commitment proceedings and in abused and neglected children petitions.

WHY ARE YOU THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR THIS POSITION?

I would bring long and varied experience to the District Judge position. I have handled hundreds, and in some areas of the law thousands, of cases over my career. I have been a prosecutor and a defense attorney in the criminal arena, and a plaintiff's and respondent's attorney in civil matters. I know and understand the perspective of the person accused of a crime, and the needs and damages to the victim of a crime. I believe that looking at a situation with experience and from more than one perspective leads to fair, just, reasonable and justifiable outcomes.

A District Judge in Lake and Sanders counties has a large case load. Starting my career in Sidney, in the middle of the first oil boom, taught me how to handle large caseloads. In Polson, I was the main contract public defender for many years and handled 90 percent of the criminal cases. Now, as a Deputy County Attorney in Lake County, along with two other deputies and the county attorney (all of whom handle their fair share of felony cases), I am the prosecutor on more felony cases in a year than were filed in 2014, the year before I started.

To handle a large caseload a judge will need to understand and be able to efficiently use the technology available. The Federal Court system is mostly electronic and thus almost paperless. You can go on-line at 3 a.m., or whenever, and file a case or review a case already filed. A similar system is coming to Montana's District Courts. I learned the federal system and can and will learn the state system. Between 1986 and 2015, I used Excel and other programs to keep track of my files. Since 2015, I have learned Justware, the system the County Attorney's Office uses.

For most of my career I have been a sole practitioner. I had to know how to do the many different things that needed to be done in all the cases I handled. In addition, I have not had support staff for many of those years. I drafted and typed the petitions, motions, responses, and other paperwork required. I set my schedule, figured out deadlines, answered phones, sent letters, contacted, interviewed and subpoenaed witnesses along with the many other tasks staff usually handles. I think doing all those things made me more aware of my cases. Now that I have staff, I can handle an even larger case load.

WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY?

A judge should not write law. That is the function of the Legislative Branch of government. The judge should follow the law. A judge needs to be careful to rule from the law and facts, and not from his personal beliefs and feelings. A judge needs to be able to laugh at himself and admit when he is wrong. A judge needs to be humble. A judge needs to constantly remind himself that his decisions effect real people and those effects can, and do, last a lifetime.

WHAT DO YOU PERCEIVE AS THE GREATEST OBSTACLE(S) TO JUSTICE, IF ANY?

In the civil realm, access to the courts. Attorneys are expensive for many people, too expensive to afford. That leaves many people unable to protect their rights, property and wellbeing. In the criminal realm, spending money on things that do not work to the exclusion of things that do.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR LEGAL CAREER?

I have always been a work horse so no one individual accomplishment stands head and shoulders over many others. I believe I have left most of the people and entities I represented, including Lake County, better off than when they came to me.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE VOTERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

I strive to have the qualities I want to see in the judges I practice in front of, namely a hard work ethic, fairness, impartiality, consistency, compassion and open mindedness.

NAME: Deborah "Kim" Christopher

EDUCATION: 2001: The National Judicial College (Reno, NV). 1989: U.S. Army Airborne School (Fort Benning, GA). 1988: The Judge Advocate General's Legal School, Charlottesville, VA. 1988: University of Montana School of Law, Missoula, MT, Juris Doctorate. 1982: University of Montana, BA in Liberal Arts, emphasis Diplomacy, History, Philosophy. Graduated Dean's List with Honors. 1978: Polson High School, Top Ten.

FAMILY: Daughter of Corinne "Keenie" Christopher and Richard "Dick" J. Christopher, Polson. Three sons, four grandchildren and one great-grandson.

OCCUPATION: Current District Court Judge, 20th Judicial District, Lake and Sanders Counties. Elected in 2000, re-elected in 2006, and again 2012.

EXPERIENCE: District Judge, 20th Judicial District, since 2001. Lake County District Attorney 1995-2000. French, Mercer, Grainey & O'Neill, Of Counsel, 1993-1995. Cascade County Deputy County Attorney, 1991-1993. U.S. Army, Fort Lewis, WA, 1988-1991. Special Assistant, U.S. Attorney, 1989-1990.

WHY ARE YOU THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR THIS POSITION?

I am the ONLY candidate who is a District Court Judge and has been for the last 18 years. My record stands before you as I have served here in Sanders and Lake County. I also have the most varied experience in the law in my 30 years of practice. I have practiced in more forums before more judges and in most types of law. I served my country in the U.S. Army where cases are handled much more formally, with form pleading than in any other system where it is notice pleading only. I have tried cases in the Federal Court system and the Tribal Courts on the Flathead Reservation. I handled cases in both Montana and Washington. I had a private practice involving family law, criminal defense and prosecution.

WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY?

I apply the law as it is given to me from the U.S. Constitution, the Montana Constitution, the Montana statutes and the Montana case law. I do what I require of jurors, which is to follow the law as it is given to me, even if I don't like it, even if I think it ought to be otherwise. In that manner, each person who comes before the courts is held to the same standard and not some arbitrary decision imposed upon them by an individual who believes their personal opinion is more important than the laws passed by the citizens of this country and state. There are three branches of government for a reason. Each provide at check on the others. My job as District Judge is to follow the law as it is determined by you through your elected representative to our legislative branch and prosecuted by the executive branch.

WHAT DO YOU PERCEIVE AS THE GREATEST OBSTACLES TO JUSTICE, IF ANY?

The same thing I perceive as the greatest support for justice...the people governed. Next on my list of hurdles would be the lack of financial resources to do the amazing things people can make happen if they care. We could limit the amount of laws. Common sense could guide us well if we stayed away from adding laws like "Assault on a Sport Official" when the crime of "Assault" covers the same thing without adding an element. Specifically, it would help if we could do house cleaning on our statutory laws without always just adding more. I suspect our legislators could be more fully informed if they were not so overburdened with proposed new legislation they have to read through and understand. It would reduce their necessary reliance on lobbyists who have their own particular agendas.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR LEGAL CAREER?

Having the privilege to serve people who matter, in a place I love, doing something that helps. When I began law school, I almost quit because the ethical rules for a lawyer did not contain one word about truth or honesty. I couldn't work without those being guiding principles. I know many people who are not crazy about lawyers, my dad being one of them. But gaining his respect for the work I do, so that he is not only proud of me but has said that maybe it would have been a good place for him too, is one of the things of which I am most proud. The fact the ethical rules have changed has helped, getting to practice law with people who supported my values has been an incredible gift. Honestly having the people's trust to be your District Court Judge is one of the greatest events in my career.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE VOTERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

My experience. It took longer to become proficient as District Judge than any of the numerous jobs I have ever done. Lawyers are in the same courtroom and change sides regularly in criminal law, civil law, family law, abuse or neglect cases, probate or other legal cases. But taking the bench completely changes the view of the courtroom. The responsibility is no longer to a client, but to the law as given by the people. Court is the place for people to resolve issues most important to them with only a bench, a robe and a gavel. It is a long learning curve to make that paradigm shift. The 20th Judicial District has invested 18 years in me. Don't waste that investment. Retain me, Deborah "Kim" Christopher, as your District Judge. You know my work ethic, my commitment and the sacrifice I have made to be your judge. I will be there as I have been for 18 years.

NAME: Ashley D. Morigeau

EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Anthropology and Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Geoscience, both cum laude, with honors, West Virginia University, 2006. Juris Doctor, with added Certificate in Environmental and Natural Resources Law, Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana, 2010.

FAMILY: I am married to Josh Morigeau. My parents-in-law are Craig and Kris Morigeau of Polson. My grandparents-in-law are Marvin and Janis Morigeau of Hot Springs. The Morigeau's have long roots in Lake and Sanders Counties. I am proud to be part of a very large extended family in both Lake and Sanders Counties. My parents are Randy and Kelley Young of Hambleton, West Virginia. I come from a blue-collar family in rural West Virginia.

OCCUPATION: Assistant Public Defender at Polson Office of the State Public Defender. I represent and have represented clients in felony criminal cases, misdemeanor criminal cases, involuntary mental health commitments, parents in child abuse and neglect cases when their children have been removed, and juvenile delinquency matters in youth court. I have limited family experience.

EXPERIENCE: I spent two summers interning with the Polson Office of the State Public Defender during law school (2008 and 2009). In my final semester of law school, I completed my clinic requirements working with Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation in Missoula. I have been practicing as a public defender since passing the bar exam in 2010. I am well-versed in criminal cases including: homicides and sex crimes, involuntary mental health commitments, child abuse and neglect cases and youth court cases. Most of the cases I have defended have been in District Court.

WHY ARE YOU THE BEST CANDIDATE FOR THIS POSITION?

I am the best candidate for this position because I am young enough to still have hope that I can use the law to implement a better way of doing things that will make positive changes in our communities. The incumbent's last 18 years on the bench have resulted in little, if any, change in philosophies or methods regarding how to handle addiction and mental health issues. If elected, I want to explore expanding the use of treatment courts. I am also the best candidate for this position because I understand intimately how the criminal justice system works and how it impacts individuals and society. Having managed a case load of approximately 60 to 80 clients for most of my career, I am more than capable of managing the court's case load so that there is no delay in waiting for rulings.

WHAT IS YOUR GENERAL JUDICIAL PHILOSOPHY?

My general judicial philosophy to criminal cases is a holistic approach. I understand that the criminal justice system is just one of many parts of our society and that by engaging persons coming through the criminal justice system with chemical dependency and mental health services, repeat offenders are reduced, thus reducing taxpayer costs. I will promote efficiency while at the same time following the Constitution and other precedent set forth by higher courts. I recognize that as a judge, I do not make the law and am bound by the legal process. However, that does not mean the law cannot be used creatively to make changes in how we address addiction and mental health issues.

In the civil cases, my judicial philosophy is that all citizens are afforded an equal chance at their day in court, and that no party, regardless of their wealth or position, should have any unfair advantage that violate the principles set forth in laws and Constitutions of Montana and the United States. I also believe that rulings should be issued with expediency because these matters impact people's daily lives. All too often, civil cases are currently left on the back burner.

WHAT DO YOU PERCEIVE AS THE GREATEST OBSTACLE(S) TO JUSTICE, IF ANY?

Poverty and lack of access are the greatest obstacles to justice. Through my experience representing indigent clients, I watch as clients struggle to find rides for court, struggle to find money to pay for mental health and chemical dependency services, and struggle with figuring out how to connect themselves with needed services that if obtained, would help keep them out of the criminal justice system. The high cost of legal representation in civil matters can also create an obstacle to the pursuit of justice. Public defenders are not available in parenting plan matters, dissolution (divorce) cases, and personal injury cases, to name a few. If a person must represent themselves due to being unable to pay for an attorney or if the court system rightfully intimidates the person, he or she may choose not to seek justice for themselves or their families.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IN YOUR LEGAL CAREER?

One of my greatest accomplishments has been helping clients have their children returned to them after being removed by Child and Family Services. It is an indescribable feeling when a case is ultimately dismissed because the client became rehabilitated and reunited with his or her family as a contributing member of society.

Another of my greatest accomplishments is standing up for injustices and the Constitutions of Montana and the United States. When I challenge an illegal search and seizure or stop of someone's car, I am standing up for my client's rights, but also ensuring that the rights of all citizens stay intact. The genius of our Founding Fathers still lives on today because they created a system that allowed for challenges to governmental action that violates citizens' rights.

WHAT IS ONE THING YOU WOULD LIKE VOTERS TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?

Deborah "Kim" Christopher

I am not a career politician. I envisioned being a judge much later in my career, but I have been watching this court for the last 8 years (and two summers) and cannot not sit on the sidelines any longer. The incumbent has been on the bench for 18 years and little has changed. Judge Manley has been on the bench since the fall of 2013 and has already stated a treatment court in Lake County. I hope to accomplish in 6 years what Judge Manley has in 5 years, he is making positive changes after years of the court following philosophies that no longer prove to be effective in today's drug-affected society. These issues are non-partisan issues and this partisan attitude has led to limited creativity and limited problem solving for far too long.

 

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