Missoula Justice of the Peace Alex Beal on Reelection Bid
Incumbent Justice of the Peace in Department One, Alex Beal, appeared on the KGVO Talk Back show on Thursday to answer questions from listeners about his bid for reelection to a second four-year term.
Beal discussed the tumultuous condition of the Justice Court system when he was elected four years ago and his efforts to ‘right the ship’ with fellow Justice of the Peace Landee Holloway.
“The first month we were there, we got to all the staff combined,” began Judge Beal. “We got a new independent administrator who's in charge of the staff and that's something that we worked with the County Commissioners office about. The judges should be in charge of the courtroom and in charge of making decisions about things. Nobody elects us to be a bunch of managers.”
Beal acknowledged that Justice Court is often the first experience a member of the public has with the criminal justice system.
“I try to treat court in a professional manner,” he said. “We run it cleanly, but in a friendly way and it can be a scary process. I want you to come in and it doesn't have to be any scarier than that. We'll explain the process. I'll let you know what your options are, and we'll go from there. There are consequences for people's actions. Those consequences are dealt with. We hand down sentences, fines, jail, whatever it is appropriate under the circumstance, but I try to explain to people ‘here's why we're doing this’.”
He explained what Justice Court can and cannot do in the criminal justice system.
“I think it's important to understand what Justice Court does and doesn't do,” he said. “And so we don't do the whole case on a felony. The folks who are on their 13th DUI, the only time we're going to see him is if they got arrested and that first hearing and what kind of bond should there be and then the rest of it, but as that case goes on, such as jail, all that stuff is up to District Court. We don't deal with that.”
Beal said the criminal cases tend to draw the spotlight, but that is a small fraction of what happens daily in Justice Court.
“We've talked a lot today about violent crime, felony crime, things like that, but that's like half a percent of what we do on a daily basis,” he said. “The other 49 and a half percent is misdemeanor stuff. 50 percent is civil stuff. Nobody thinks about us in terms of civil (cases) but half our job is about folks who are getting sued. People who are getting evicted , all those little things and just being able to provide a fair and reasonable experience for people to come in and solve their disputes, and that makes me happy.”
Beal is opposed in the primary by Bill Burt and Daniel Kaneff, both with extensive military and law enforcement experience.