Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) One of Missoula's most enduring figures announced his retirement this week, ending a legal career that saw the city through a number of high-profile cases.

In a letter to the mayor and City Council, City Attorney Jim Nugent said he plans to retire from an occupation he has performed in a variety of roles for Missoula since 1975.

His last day on the job will be June 30.

“It has been an honor, privilege and great pleasure to serve the City of Missoula and surrounding community since 1975,” Nugent said in his letter to city officials. “It has been a pleasure to meet and work for so many elected officials from so many walks of life and philosophical perspectives, as well as work with so many skilled staff.”

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.

Based upon Nugent's legal research, the city opted to stop paying the county its fees, and the county sued. But District Court sided with the city, saying the county could only charge the city for the cost of holding arrestees who had violated Missoula Municipal Code.

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 registration.

In the end, the state won the case, which made its way into Montana politics and drew a response from GOP leaders as far east as the South Dakota border.

But Nugent's vitae reads like a 40-year history of the city, its evolution and the cases that helped shape it.

“The opportunity to be involved in significant, successful litigation that benefited both the City of Missoula as well as other Montana municipalities during my tenure as City Attorney has made this career rewarding many times over,” Nugent said.

“Knowing that through our work at the City of Missoula we made a positive impact on the lives of Missoulians and those across Montana has been the honor of a lifetime, and I remain thankful and humbled by the opportunity to serve.”

City Attorney Jim Nugent
City Attorney Jim Nugent

Nugent attended the University of Montana, where he first earned a business degree. He followed with a law degree from UM and began his career with the city as a criminal prosecutor in 1975.

He became the Missoula City Attorney in 1977.

Nugent cited more than a dozen cases he helped litigate on behalf of Missoula and its residents. Some cases involved sewer main installation, while others involved litigation in District Court.

Many of Nugent's earlier cases now read like a history book, given they were resolved decades ago. That includes his tenure as the president of the Montana League of Cities and Towns.

“The Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority was created to provide municipalities a self-insurance pool after private insurers quit insuring law enforcement, and soon thereafter quit providing liability insurance for local governments as well,” Nugent said. “I am proud to say I was a part of this achievement.”

While Nugent's letter is dated March 14, the city has not officially announced his retirement. However, those who worked with him praised his tenure, his achievements and blessed his future.

“He will be missed,” one person close to Nugent said. “He has loved every second.”