Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst announces retirement
(KPAX) Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst has announced that she will retire effective March 31, capping a 30-year career in criminal justice.
“It has been the honor of a lifetime to have earned the trust of my fellow citizens and to serve as your chief elected prosecutor. I am looking forward to spending more time with my family, enjoying Montana’s mountains and lakes, and exploring new ways to serve my community,” Pabst, said.
Pabst, 56, started her career as a legal intern prosecutor in 1994 when she was first hired by then-County Attorney Dusty Deschamps.
“They handed me a file and sent me to court on my first day,” Pabst remembered. “I grabbed it and have never looked back. It has been so rewarding to witness the growth and success of this office as we’ve adapted to meet the evolving needs of crime victims and hold offenders accountable.”
Pabst worked as a deputy prosecutor in Cascade and Missoula counties, was called in as a special prosecutor for Lewis and Clark County and managed a solo practice before being elected as Missoula County Attorney in 2014. She was re-elected in 2018 and 2022.
Pabst has served the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) as a Vice President on the Board of Directors and member of the executive committee.
She also has been teaching litigation skills at the local, state and national levels for most of her career.
Pabst chairs NDAA’s National Prosecutor Wellbeing Committee, published a book on secondary trauma, “Thriving Through Chaos, Survival Gear for Criminal Justice Professionals,” and hosted a national conference that brought prosecutors from all over the United States to Missoula.
She frequently speaks on topics including secondary trauma and organizational resilience, responsible criminal justice reform and domestic violence.
Pabst has been named Criminal Justice Professional of the Year and recently received two national achievement awards for her work in the evolving field of secondary trauma mitigation.
The National Association of Counties (NACO) recently honored her prosecution-led pretrial diversion program, Montana’s first, with another National Achievement Award.
Recently the U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Unit bestowed its highest honor upon Pabst for her office’s longstanding partnership with the agency and her commitment to protecting the people, property and natural resources of the region.
Pabst has prosecuted hundreds of violent crimes and worked on several of Missoula’s high-profile cases, including Martin Swan, the Blue Mountain killer; Robert Davis, who was convicted of negligent homicide after a fatal hit-and-run on Van Buren Street; the cold case investigation into the murder of school teacher Vera Kvale; Caressa Hardy, who was convicted of two counts of homicide after a cold case investigation involving human teeth identified in the family firepit; and the photographer who was charged with sexually assaulting several of his clients.
“Every trial is an all-hands-on-deck situation. I am inspired watching my team come together to present a case to a jury. From our discovery techs and victim witness coordinators to the best prosecutors out there, they all dive right in to the saddest, most horrific stories for the sole purpose of delivering justice to a child who has been harmed. It’s transformative.”
When asked what she is most proud of, Pabst cites her collaboration with the Department of Justice (DOJ) prior to her election. Soon after taking office, she rolled out a state-of-the-art Special Victim’s Unit, which continues to serve as a best-practices model.
Pabst said she’s proud of the relationships her office has forged with our criminal justice partners, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office, the Missoula Police Department, Montana Highway Patrol, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Montana Livestock Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection and many others.
The Missoula Board of County Commissioners will appoint an interim replacement. Pabst recommends that Chief Criminal Deputy Matt Jennings, as her replacement.
“Matt is the best-suited, most experienced person to lead this office into the future. I have no doubt he will continue to make it better, for our people and for Missoula County.”
Pabst said she doesn’t plan on slowing down any time soon.
“I have a few ideas up my sleeve. I will continue to engage in national policy work to advocate for prosecutors, victims and local communities. I’m not going anywhere; I‘m just ready to hang up my trial cleats for a while and serve in other capacities. I also plan on doing a little plein air painting and off-grid camping, and I’m working on another book.”