HomeBillings NewsBillings welcomes new municipal court judge to alleviate case overload

Billings welcomes new municipal court judge to alleviate case overload

Billings, Montana – Billings is taking a significant step towards addressing its burden of court cases with the appointment of a new municipal court judge. Katie Heller, elected in November, was officially sworn in on Tuesday to work alongside Judge Sheila Kolar. This addition is expected to bring much-needed relief to the city’s overloaded court system.

The swearing-in ceremony, led by Yellowstone County District Judge Donald Harris, marks a new chapter in Billings’ judicial system. Heller, reflecting on her new role, shared, “It’s a little overwhelming. Driving to work was a unique experience.” Her arrival is not just a personal milestone but also a strategic move by the city to enhance public safety and the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

This judicial expansion was made possible by a $7.1 million mill levy passed in 2021, which aimed to bolster public safety by adding a full-time judge and other city personnel. Judge Kolar emphasized that the levy’s impact extended beyond the judiciary, stating, “It wasn’t just judges. They got additional law enforcement, different safety to help with the safety of this community.”

Billings currently faces a staggering backlog of approximately 16,000 cases, ranging from DUIs and thefts to municipal and code infractions. Judge Kolar, who has been the sole city judge since 2011, pointed out that this overload has implications for the Yellowstone County Detention Facility and the justice system at large.

The division of cases between the two judges, with each handling around 8,000 cases, is expected to improve case management significantly. Heller, speaking on the impact of this change, said, “Having two judges on the bench will allow for both the judges to give more time and effort into each case that they see, which will obviously affect public safety.”

Heller’s appointment has been met with enthusiasm and support. Judge Harris expressed his excitement for her new role, while Judge Kolar, familiar with Heller’s work as a defense attorney, praised her preparedness and demeanor. Heller’s mother, present at the ceremony, conveyed her pride and anticipation for Heller’s contribution to the community. “I’m so excited for what you’re going to do for the community. I’m very proud of you, Katie,” she said.

For Heller, the ceremony was a mix of nerves and excitement, underscored by a strong sense of support. “I was a little nervous, but it was a very exciting process. Obviously had a lot of support here, which is a good feeling. And I’m excited to serve the Billings community,” Heller concluded. Her appointment is a promising development for Billings, signaling a more efficient and effective judicial process in the city.

Mia White



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