Flathead County Coverage

Jan 31, 2014 4:44 PM by Dax VanFossen reporting

Flathead court changes improve efficiency

KALISPELL - Flathead County District Court has seen a steady increase of cases every year, and that's one of the reasons why criminal court is being run a little different these days.

Reporter Dax VanFossen sat down with all four Flathead County District Court judges for a look at one of Montana's busiest court systems.

Flathead County typically has the second highest criminal caseload in the state of Montana after only Billings and Yellowstone County. That's one of the reasons why in 2012, Flathead County added another District Court Judge - making the total four.

"We have the same number of cases, regardless, but now we have four judges for them to be divided upon. Rather than just the three that we had previously - but it definitely is a positive," Judge Ted Lympus explained.

That load of criminal cases has increased by a large number for a number of reasons. Judge Lympus says that's in part due to the economy and a booming Flathead Population.

"It's increased significantly, but not just in criminal cases, in the domestic relations cases have really grown. And so many more of them because of circumstances financially and otherwise."
There are actually supposed to be 5 district court judges, but 4 has helped the workload tremendously.

"It helped as judge Lympus said, but it doesn't begin to stem the flow of cases that continue to rise, through economic downturn. Particularly family law and domestic relations," Judge David Ortley said.

Flathead District Court judges are now handling all of their own cases, as opposed to one large district court day on Thursday before one judge.

"And sometimes it would cycle between all four of us, and that's not a good use of judicial resources," Judge Heidi Ulbricht concluded.

Judge Robert Allison noted that judges may step in to listen to cases if another judge is unavailable, but that would be an exception, not the rule.

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