Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has appointed Belgrade City Court Judge Andrew Breuner to preside over the new eighteenth judicial district court in Gallatin County.
Breuner, who has served as Belgrade municipal judge since 2015, was one of four candidates who applied for the post earlier this fall. The 2021 legislature approved the new position in response to the increase in the number of cases in the rapidly growing county.
The last day of Breuner in Belgrade will be December 31; he expects to be sworn in as a district judge on Jan. 3.
Breuner told the Belgrade News on Wednesday that he believed his experience on the bench in Belgrade contributed to the governor’s decision.
“A real peculiarity is that I was a practicing judge for almost seven years,” he said. “You add that to the fact that I have been a licensed lawyer, and I think I brought a wealth of experience to the application process. “
He added that Gianforte also knows him well due to their past working relationship on the board of the Petra Academy.
“I know his expectations, his standards of professionalism,” said Breuner. “He knows my skills, he knows my personality, he knows my values. “
In a press release, Gianforte said: “Andrew Breuner is a talented lawyer who will make an outstanding judge in the Eighteenth Judicial District. He is committed to applying the law in a fair, consistent and objective manner, and I have no doubts that he will serve County Gallatin well by interpreting the laws, not by making them on the bench.
Before becoming a judge in Belgrade, Breuner worked for 15 years as a lawyer, “so I am familiar with the district systems, not just locally but throughout the state,” he said.
Breuner said the nomination was “bittersweet” because “as excited as I am and eager to get down to business at Bozeman… I have a genuine affection for Belgrade.
“To be honest with you, I will miss coming to work here terribly,” he said.
In an email to court and city staff on Wednesday morning, Breuner wrote: “Thanks to you, I have looked forward to coming to work every day for six and a half years. You made my work so meaningful and, frankly, fun. I am truly blessed by all of you and I will miss this place dearly.
Under Breuner’s leadership, the Belgrade court became a municipal archives court last July, meaning the court now keeps detailed accounts of all its proceedings. Breuner said on Wednesday he expects the next big change for city court to be a transition to city court status, according to most major cities in Montana – and he expects this to happen. happen as soon as possible.
Before that, the city will have to find a new municipal judge, a transition which Breuner says will be fairly fluid.
“I am totally convinced that we have the resources we need to maintain the pitch for as long as it takes (to hire a replacement),” he said. “By the end of January, I expect Belgrade to be ready to select someone.”
City manager Neil Cardwell said council would start planning to find a new judge at its meeting on Monday.
“I’m excited for him and this opportunity,” Cardwell said. “It couldn’t happen to a better person.”
Breuner applied in 2020 to succeed retired District Judge Holly Brown, a post ultimately filled by Peter Ohman. At the time, Breuner told the Belgrade News that he was interested in taking the opportunity of the district court because of the variety and increasing complexity of the cases he would deal with there.
Other candidates for the new district judge seat were Audrey Schultz Cromwell, managing partner at Cromwell Law and judge pro tempore at Bozeman City Court and Gallatin County Court of Justice; Martin Lambert, Gallatin County Lawyer; and Benjamin Refling, who works for the State Public Defender’s Office.
The direct appointment of the governor differs from the way district court judges have been chosen over the past 50 years. Previously, candidates for district court judges were selected by the Judicial Appointments Commission made up of two lawyers, four people who are not judges or lawyers, and a district court judge, with the final approval of the governor. A new law passed by the 2021 legislature gave the governor the power to fill vacant or new judicial seats on his own. The law was challenged in the Montana Supreme Court, which ruled in June that it was constitutional.
To keep his new seat, Breuner will have to stand for election next fall.