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Missoula judge, champion of veterans Brenda Desmond dies

Brenda Desmond, right, congratulates a veteran for completing treatment court. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The standing master of Missoula Veterans Court and a University of Montana faculty member died on Monday in Minnesota while undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Brenda Desmond was widely known and highly respected around Missoula for her work with veterans. She founded the Veterans Treatment Court and was tough but fair when helping veterans navigate addiction and recovery.

“People have gotten back on track in amazing ways in this program,” she told the Missoula Current in 2019. “I feel so fortunate to observe people get back on the track they were on when they entered the military.”

Below is the statement regarding Desmond’s passing:

Judge Desmond began her 40 years of service to Montana Tribes in 1978 as an advisor to the Crow Tribal Court, following her graduation from law school in her hometown of Buffalo, New York. She quickly developed a deep respect and affinity for Montana’s Tribal Nations.

Judge Desmond worked for the Montana Legislative Council from 1982-1986 where her duties included staffing the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Brenda Desmond presides over Veterans Treatment Court in Missoula. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

She was a member of the faculty of the Alexander Blewett III School of Law in Missoula from 1985 until 1994 and served as a supervising attorney in the Indian Law Clinic, where she worked closely with the late Professor Margery Hunter Brown.

Judge Desmond was an associate justice of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes Court of Appeals from 1997 until 2003. She served as chief justice and later associate justice of the Fort Peck Tribes Court of Appeals from 2006 until 2020.

In addition to her work for Tribes, Judge Desmond also served as a standing master in Montana’s Fourth Judicial District Court from 1994 to 2020. There, she presided over the first Veterans Treatment Court in Montana from its founding in 2011 until her retirement from state court service in 2020.

She spent more than a decade as a member of the Montana Board of Crime Control. In 2020, she joined the CSKT Tribal Public Defenders Office as a family defense attorney, where she served until she was diagnosed with cancer in 2021.

In her personal life, Judge Desmond was an avid runner and completed multiple full-length marathons in her 60s. She is survived by three brothers, two sons, and five grandchildren.