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Retired State Supreme Court Judge Takes Justice of Peace Court Bench After Predecessor’s Abrupt Exit

Posted Aug 14, 2012 10:55 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A retired former justice of the Montana Supreme Court is temporarily serving as a justice of the peace in Lake County, after her longtime predecessor on the Polson court seat abruptly resigned.

Judge Diane Barz, who lives near Flathead Lake with her husband, had to get special permission from the state's top court to take the justice of the peace court bench without the advance training that is usually required, reports the Missoulian.

Barz agreed to serve for no more than three weeks after Judge Chuck Wall submitted a resignation letter at 8 a.m. on Wednesday of last week, effective at the end of that day. He plans to return to private practice in Lake County following his 10-year stint as justice of the peace.

Wall confirmed to the newspaper that his resignation followed the settlement, on confidential terms, of sexual harassment complaints made to the Montana Human Rights Bureau concerning his claimed conduct by two court staff members.

Now the county is scrambling not only to fill his position but to keep the court running following the resignation of two of the four justice of the peace court clerks to take other jobs, the newspaper says. A third clerk is on family medical leave.

“Judges are–and should be–held to very high standards of conduct, both in their professional and personal affairs. One such standard is that they avoid any appearance of impropriety," said Wall in a written statement provided to the Missoulian on Monday.

“In an effort to lighten the atmosphere and make both my office and my small-town Montana but very busy courtroom a more enjoyable and less stressful and intimidating place to work and appear, I have said some things that in hindsight were not becoming of a member of the judiciary. No harm was ever intended.”

The county commissioners hope to make another temporary appointment Tuesday to fill Wall's seat until a new justice of the peace elected in November takes office on January 1 to serve the remaining two years of his term.Those interested in running for election to the job, which pays $46,000 annually, have until Aug. 22 to file.

To qualify, a candidate must “be at least 18 years old, and breathing," Chairman Paddy Trusler of the county commission told the newspaper. "And, I think you have to have been a resident of the county for a certain amount of time.”

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