Voices: Jason Marks is fit, trained and suited to serve as District Court judge

Jason Marks should be retained as a judge in the 4th Judicial District. Being a judge is very difficult, and often heart-rending. We know that Judge Marks is equal to the task because he has already done a wonderful job in his time on the bench, filling the very big shoes left by the retirement of Judge Townsend.

Judge Marks is fair; he is smart; he is compassionate; and he is hard-working. In a busy district such as ours, those are key ingredients in the delivery of justice to all.

I was a law professor at the University of Montana from 1990 to 2020, teaching litigation related subjects, including Evidence, Civil Procedure, Remedies, and Family Law. I have had ample opportunity, both as a supervisor to clinical students and in my own pro bono work, to know all of the judges in the district and across Montana. I also have served myself as a judge for several tribal courts.

Becoming a judge is an entirely different job from simply being a lawyer in a courtroom. First of all, every new judge has to attend specialized judicial training, which Judge Marks has already done. Once on the bench, judges are required to attend several days of additional training each year, which Judge Marks has already done.

Further, because no lawyer develops specialized knowledge of all the areas of the law, a new judge has to learn on-the-job about those areas which they did not practice. Judge Marks already has been doing this for more than a year. In short, there is a steep learning curve, which Judge Marks has already climbed. When, as here, a judge has proven that he has the ability and willingness to excel on the bench, it does not make sense for our community to discard that time and effort and install another person who would have to start from scratch.

Of course, if a sitting judge is arrogant, arbitrary, or one-sided, I would support a challenger. I know that in this race, the opponent (whom I know and like personally) has intimated that Judge Marks’ previous employment as a prosecutor in the Missoula County Attorney’s Office biases him against criminal defendants.

My own personal experience in court showed me that just the opposite is true. I had occasion to watch Judge Marks conduct a morning of hearings in criminal cases last winter. I was surprised and completely impressed by the amount of time Judge Marks spent on each case, and the kindness with which he treated each prisoner.

Instead of simply processing a bunch of cases, Judge Marks conducted a colloquy with each defendant. At least twice that morning, after hearing from the prosecution lawyer, the Judge observed that the specific elements of the charge were inconsistent with the evidence before him, resulting in dismissal of those charges. It was clear that Judge Marks knew criminal law inside and out, which makes sense because he (like his challenger) has served on both sides of the system, having been a public defender before he joined the prosecutors’ office.

For sure, my observation confirmed that the judge has no hesitation in holding his former colleagues to the letter of the law. (In the interest of full disclosure, my daughter is in the prosecutor’s office. She reports the same experience.)

I have already voted for Jason Marks, a dedicated public servant, and I urge you to join me in retaining him as a District Court Judge.

Cynthia Ford, (Retired) professor of law