Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After nearly five decades, it all came to an end on Monday night, shortly after 9 p.m.

As City Attorney Jim Nugent sat through his last City Council meeting, those around him recounted all the reasons why he's become an endearing and historic legal figure.

Endearing for all the jokes he liked to tell and historic for his institutional knowledge of Missoula and his ability to recite Montana Code Annotated, seemingly by memory.

“He has served the city for 48 years and has advanced the field of municipal attorney in the state of Montana in countless ways,” said Mayor Jordan Hess. “He's been a tireless advocate for cities through the Montana League of Cities and Towns. He's always been a wealth of knowledge and is good for a story you never knew about.”

Nugent first announced his plans to retire in March in a letter to the city, saying he would step away from an occupation he has performed in a variety of roles for Missoula since 1975.

Officially, his last day lands on Friday, the last day of June. But on Monday night, few were expecting he'd linger that long, waiting for the clock to run out.

“I've always had a passion for public service and I wanted to serve the public, and help the communities succeed and be better places,” Nugent said. “I've always greatly enjoyed being available in having such an important role in not only Missoula but statewide.”

Among his achievements, Nugent argued on behalf of the city before the Fourth Judicial District Court in 1977 to resolve a dispute involving Missoula County over fees it was charging the city for the daily incarceration of prisoners.

Nugent also helped represent Missoula during the Mountain Water trials, in which the city prevailed. He also went toe to toe with former Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican, over Missoula's effort to close a dangerous loophole in firearms registrations.

The University of Montana Law School graduate began working with the city as a criminal prosecutor in 1975. He became the City Attorney in 1977. His occupation left his son, Mike Nugent, little room for childhood antics.

“I'm proud to be your son. You've set an example for this community for 48 years. It's been fun to sit at this table for the last year-and-half and see the impact you truly have,” Mike Nugent said Monday night.

City Attorney Jim Nugent
City Attorney Jim Nugent

In his role as a City Council member, Mike has gained a new view of his father.

“As your child growing up, I knew that if I ever got in trouble, you were going to know about it before I got home,” Mike said. “But sitting here and seeing what the mayor eluded to, with the amount of people across this state and beyond that have come to rely on you for advice and speak to what you've contributed, both to their communities and the field of law in Montana, has been honor.”

Other members of council also praised Nugent, not only for his occupational success but for his quick responses and dry sense of humor.

“There's a steep learning curve on council, but you helped make it not so steep,” said council member Kristen Jordan. “And you're funny, and sometimes you don't even know you're funny”

Council member Mirtha Becerra has worked with Nugent in a variety of capacities over the last decade and learned much from her municipal peer.

“I truly appreciate all the advice and feedback you always provided me, not just on council, but back in the days when I was a young planner working with the city,” Becerra said. “I had no understanding of state law but you were so thoughtful and thorough with all your education.”