Sunday, April 14, 2024
73.0°F

Attorney files for embattled judge's seat

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | February 15, 2024 12:00 AM

Local attorney Britt Cotter filed last week for the District Court seat currently held by embattled Judge Deborah “Kim” Christopher.

The judge, who has held that post since 2000, is facing a complaint filed by the Judicial Standards Commission, asking the Montana Supreme Court to discipline the judge for missing too much work without covering her docket and failing to diligently perform her duties. Additionally, the Department of Public Health and Human Services has asked the Supreme Court to disqualify her from a case.

The complaint filed Jan. 16 by attorney Amy Christensen on behalf of the Judicial Standards Commission alleges that the judge “failed to diligently perform her judicial and administrative duties.” It asserts that Judge Christopher cancelled up to 19 Law and Motion Days in 2021, and as many as 11 in 2022 – not including the 14 days covered by retired judges for medical reasons during an absence of almost three months – and that she “failed to timely and adequately” arrange for coverage. 

Her handling of a child custody case last fall, in which she abruptly removed a 5 year old from his mother’s care and turned the child over to his father in Oregon, resulted in the Montana Supreme Court removing her from the case and shifting jurisdiction to Judge Molly Owen. 

On Monday, the Daily Montanan published an extensive story about recent allegations against the judge (https://dailymontanan.com). According to the article, attorney Lance Jasper, has filed a judicial misconduct complaint regarding Christopher with the Judicial Standards Commission, and has referred the custody hearing on Sept. 11 to law enforcement to investigate for possible destruction of evidence and witness tampering. Jasper, along with Spencer MacDonald, is now representing the mother in the custody case.

Cotter is a Polson attorney. According to his website, he graduated from Gonzaga Law and has been practicing since 2005 as both a county prosecutor and public defender. According to the Secretary of State’s website, Judge Christopher had not filed for office as of Feb. 13.