WHY ARE YOU RUNNING?
I am running for county attorney because I believe the county needs a fresh approach to leadership, updated policies for criminal justice enforcement, and creative strategies to address our county’s mental health crisis.
IF ELECTED, WHAT PARTICULAR SKILLS, QUALIFICATIONS OR EXPERIENCE WILL YOU BRING TO THE OFFICE?
I am a proven leader. The county attorney position is a leadership position akin to the CEO of a law firm and general counsel to the county. I am the managing partner of Cromwell Law, a business I founded and have grown over the past 11 years from a solo practice to a five-attorney law firm, plus support staff. I am particularly proud that my law firm was named Gallatin’s Greatest Law Firm by community choice in 2021. The county attorney must ensure the office is fully staffed with the best prosecutors, the best civil attorneys, and the best support staff.
I am a relationship-builder. In 2014, MSU awarded a contract to my law firm to provide legal services to students. Each year, the legal aid program I created advises and assists 400-500 students in criminal law, business and tax law, landlord-tenant law, and consumer protection. We also worked hard to develop a successful DUI prevention program, aimed at connecting MSU police with students in an informal, educational setting. I value the partnerships I have cultivated with MSU leadership, with attorneys, with business leaders, with local government, and local nonprofits.
I am a collaborator. In 2015, a team of colleagues and I worked hard to pass the Uniform Collaborative Law Act in the Montana Legislature, which protects professionals working in collaborative law. Collaborative law is an effective tool to resolve disputes before they become lawsuits. The county needs a leader that is more interested in resolving conflict with other entities than suing them.
I am a visionary. I have worked in every aspect of criminal law, from prosecution to defense work, to judging. For the past seven years I have worked as a judge pro tem in Justice Court and more recently as a judge pro tem in Municipal Court. I believe our county’s criminal justice system needs smart reform. We need to hold folks accountable for their crimes, while simultaneously addressing the underlying root causes of crime, such as mental health disorders and addiction.
IN YOUR VIEW, WHAT ARE THE MOST PRESSING ISSUES THE NEXT COUNTY ATTORNEY WILL FACE?
Gallatin County’s growth is straining our communities and resources. As I have been knocking doors in the county, most folks are worried about the mental health crisis and affordable housing, and how those challenges impact our public safety.
Affordable housing is one underlying marker of crime. Without affordable housing, Montanans are stressed, stretching every dollar to make ends meet. When folks can afford adequate housing and basic necessities, we typically see a decrease in crime. As county attorney, I will assist in problem solving and advising on potential legal remedies to encourage and maintain affordable housing in our county. This in turn will help temper crime rates and increase public safety in our communities.
The county attorney’s office is tasked with keeping our communities safe from those suffering with mental health disorders when they are an imminent danger to themselves or others. With the recent difficulties at the State Hospital in Warm Springs and with Hope House in Bozeman, the options for those in acute crisis are limited. This means that the sheriff’s office currently transports those in crisis to Hamilton, Missoula, and Warm Springs for crisis intervention and care – all at the county taxpayer’s expense. As county attorney, I will work with community leaders to ensure we address the lack of inpatient crisis care in the county, thereby reducing the cost and promoting best outcomes for those in need. If we can help folks maintain mental health stability, we will create safer communities.
WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS IF ELECTED?
The attorneys and staff at the county attorney’s office work extremely hard with few resources. Some attorney caseloads have reached 300 to 400 cases at a time. The first goal I have would be to ensure that the staff have the adequate resources to manage their caseloads. This could mean hiring additional attorneys, support staff, or social workers to assist with case management. This year, Gallatin County overtook Missoula County in number of residents. The Missoula County Attorney employs 24 attorneys plus support staff. The Gallatin County Attorney currently employs 11 attorneys. Our county attorney’s office needs more resources to do the work required to keep our communities safe and to keep up with growth in the county.
Addressing the underlying root cause of crime is important to treatment and rehabilitation. Options that work well are drug or behavioral health courts. These specialized courts include treatment, assistance with housing, medication, support for children, and wrap-around services. Those suffering with mental illness or drug addiction can often become well with the support of treatment courts. I have served on a treatment court in the past and have experience writing grants to support this type of work. I would seek to partner with one of our judges to start another treatment court.
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE VOTERS TO CONSIDER?
I have the breadth and depth of experience to effectively lead and manage this office. I have had the privilege of serving the public as a judge pro tem, prosecutor, public defender, and private defense attorney. Additionally, I have managed a successful law firm and legal aid organization from their inception, have broken new ground on the front lines of Montana collaborative law, and built multiple programs to provide essential access to legal care for our community.
The county attorney leads the county’s team of criminal and civil lawyers, provides legal advice to county departments, and sets policy for criminal justice enforcement and reform.
I have worked within our Montana justice system from all angles: which my policies and leadership reflect.
TELL US ONE FUN FACT ABOUT YOURSELF
In high school I was a sprinter and long-jumper. My sophomore year, one of the Billings West High football coaches approached me and asked if I would consider trying out for the football team as a running back. When I told my Dad, he said, “heck no!” I still smile thinking about that “recruitment.”