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‘Calm, measured’ Gustafson sworn in on Supreme Court

Friday, February 2, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Joe Menden
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By Joe Menden

Justice Ingrid Gustafson has clearly earned the respect of those who have come to know her best – the attorneys in her hometown of Billings and her colleagues on the state District Court bench.

When Gustafson applied for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court last year nearly 100 people wrote letters to the Judicial Nomination Commission in support of her. The bulk of those were penned by Billings attorneys or District Court judges, who praised her for her patience, preparation and work ethic.

Out of seven people who applied for the Supreme Court seat, Gustafson was the only one to receive the unanimous recommendation of the Judicial Nomination Commission.

She eventually was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock in December, and she became the newest Supreme Court justice on Jan. 5 when she took the oath of office in a ceremony in Billings presided over by U.S. District Judge Susan P. Watters.

It’s no wonder she has earned the trust of so many: From her roots as a nationally recognized athlete through being recognized as one of the state’s most efficient judges during her time on the bench she has a history of achieving big things.

Ashley Harada, the president of the Yellowstone Area Bar Association, said she expects Gustafson to do well on the Supreme Court, but she will be missed in Billings.

“Judge Gustafson’s advancement to the Montana Supreme Court is bittersweet because we are sad to see her go,” Harada said. “The Yellowstone Area Bar is grateful to have had a wonderful and empathetic jurist for 13 years. She has influenced the culture of the judiciary in Billings and the lives of the people who have appeared before her. Her thoughtful legal analysis and writing will certainly serve her well on the Montana Supreme Court. We wish her the very best on her newest endeavor and will miss her greatly."

According to Eric Nord, a Billings attorney and president-elect of the State Bar of Montana, Gustafson is well-suited for the Montana Supreme Court because she has proven herself to be a sound jurist with a “calm, measured demeanor.”

“Judge Gustafson has handled hundreds, if not thousands, of matters relating to criminal, civil, drug, and family court matters at the trial level,” Nord wrote. “She personifies a core value of the State Bar of Montana which is to build and sustain a rich and highly qualified legal community. Judge Gustafson has committed herself to maintaining the highest level of professionalism. In her courtroom, she demands the highest level of competence and professionalism of the attorneys who appear before her. She is a skilled leader of the Bar and jurist. Her experience in the areas of family and criminal law, as well as general civil matters, combined with her broad-based talents as an attorney and a judge, position her well for service as an Associate Justice of the Montana Supreme Court."

State Bar of Montana President Leslie Halligan called Gustafson – whom she first met when they were both in law school and became reacquainted with when she became a district judge in 2014 — a mentor and friend. Halligan said she has learned firsthand the overwhelming caseload that Montana judges must manage. She said Gustafson’s performance in the 13th Judicial District, which handles a caseload that dwarfs that of othe districts, is especially impressive.

“Even with her significant work load, in the nearly 14 years that she has served, Ingrid has developed a reputation as a fair, knowledgeable and effective jurist, and consistently demonstrates an ability to hear and timely decide cases,” Halligan wrote.

Halligan called Gustafson “an exemplary public servant who represents all that is good in the Montana judiciary.”

As busy as her caseload has been, Gustafson over the years has found time to serve in many other ways outside of the courtroom too. She has volunteered for a long list of Supreme Court boards and commissions and Montana judicial groups.

In 2011, Gustafson started the 13th Judicial District’s first felony drug court. She also served as a member of the Montana Drug Court Strategic Planning Initiative from 2014-2016, evaluating drug court practices across the state and developing a strategic plan for using evidence-based practices. She developed a clinic, along with the Yellowstone Family Law Project and the State Pro Bono Coordinator, for self-represented litigants to complete dissolutions of marriage and parenting plans in a more accurate and efficient manner. She has also been a prolific speaker, lecturing at dozens of seminars and presentations.

Gustafson said in her application with the Judicial Nomination Commission that she considers service to society as one of her obligations.

“Contributing to one’s community does not only involve volunteering one’s time to community activities and projects, it also involves being a good citizen and promoting that in others,” she said. “We certainly cannot expect respect and consideration from others unless we show it ourselves and teach it to our youth.”

Gustafson, who earned her JD from the University of Montana School of Law in 1988, was a decorated athlete before her law career, most notably as one of the top alpine skiers in the nation. She earned a skiing scholarship to attend Montana State University, where she earned varsity letters all four years and was named an All-American skier in 1983. She was inducted into the MSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011. She earned a business degree from MSU in 1983.

She also has won multiple awards as a competitive softball, racquetball and soccer player.
She continues to be involved in sports: She served as a soccer coach at the youth and high school levels in Billings for over 20 years, and she referees soccer matches at the high school and intercollegiate levels.

Gustafson was appointed as a district judge by then Gov. Judy Martz in January 2004 and won election to the seat in 2004, 2006 and 2012.

Gov. Bullock appointed Gustafson, 56, on Dec. 14 to replace Justice Michael Wheat, who retired at the end of 2017 after seven years on the court. Gustafson must run for election in November to retain her Supreme Court seat.

Joe Menden is editor of the Montana Lawyer. You can reach him at 406-447-2200 or jmenden@montanabar.org.


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