The race for Madison County Justice of the Peace is between two people with long experience in the criminal justice system.
Incumbent MaryAnn O’Malley from Virginia City has been in her position for 16 years. Her challenger Chris Tenny from Sheridan has been in law enforcement for 10 years, five years as a sworn police officer. He is currently a Madison County Deputy Sheriff.
O’Malley and Tenny square off in one of four contested county races.
In other races, Madison County Clerk of District Court Bundy Bailey is facing a challenge from Karen Miller. Incumbent Madison County District 3 Commissioner Jim Hart is facing a challenge from Dave Germann.
In Madison County Commissioner District 2, current commissioner Marilyn Ross isn’t seeking re-election and four candidates are vying for her spot: Dan Happel, Ty Cobb, Ron Nye and Evan O. Gannon.
The election will take place Nov. 2.
O’Malley has always had a pull toward the criminal justice system and being Madison County Justice of the Peace has been rewarding.
Over the past 16 years, the biggest change she’s seen is the increased caseload that comes through justice court, O’Malley said.
“The county growing has really changed the dynamics of the court,” she said.
The Madison County Justice Court covers all of Madison County, which includes Big Sky. The civil caseload has increased along with the criminal.
Justice court hears initial appearances on felony charges, misdemeanors and fish and game violations. It also hears small claims cases and orders of protection. Madison County Justice of the Peace makes $45,039 a year.
“Our caseload has grown a lot,” O’Malley said. “It’s a lot bigger than it used to be.”
Some of the changes she’s made while on the bench have been to require all cases involving drunk driving to attend a victim impact program, she said. This makes an impact on offenders, showing them the impact their crimes can have on victims.
“I think it makes an impact on people,” O’Malley said.
She has also instituted the compliance supervision program, which involves a court compliance officer that will take on probation work for the court. This compliance officer works with local law enforcement officers to keep them up to speed on who is under restrictions.
“He provides a hot list to them so they know who can’t be in the bar and who’s required to be on random testing,” she said. “It helps provide public safety and holds people accountable. I think people know they have to comply with my conditions.”
She also has employed secure continuous remote alcohol monitoring systems, which is a bracelet system used to monitor people under court restrictions.
But Tenny thinks Madison County Justice Court could use some changes.
“As law enforcement I see changes that need to be made in the way justice court deals with offenders,” Tenny said. “Offenders are not being held accountable.”
He feels like too often law enforcement officers deal with the same offenders.
“Finding guilty people guilty is only part of the job,” Tenny said. “Holding people accountable means when they’re breaking their deal with the court and they’re breaking their deal with the community there has to be consequences.”
Tenny’s solution to this is pretty straightforward. He would rapidly escalate consequences for people who reoffend.
His background in law enforcement gives him a unique perspective to the problem.
“It effects how I would deal with people and my whole vision of what the role of a judge is,” Tenny said. “It’s all about managing criminal behavior – direct supervision of that problematic portion of the society that needs to be managed most closely.”
Training and education has been important to O’Malley, who is a graduate of the Montana Judicial Institute and has been twice to classes at the National Judicial College.
“I’ve demonstrated I’m fair and impartial. I’ve demonstrated that I hold people accountable for their actions,” she said. “I have the wisdom and judgment required to make fair decisions.”