Viewpoint: Alex Beal understands the law, issues of incarceration
Justice of the Peace is not an office that gets a lot of attention in an election year. However, it is one that is important in our community and that many people come into contact with.
Maybe you are involved in a landlord/tenant issue, bringing a civil case involving less than $12,000, you picked up a traffic ticket, or you need an order of protection. In all of those situations, you want to appear in front of a judge who actually knows the law. Judge Alex Beal was an experienced attorney before he was elected as a Justice of the Peace and he has done an excellent job since being elected.
While criminal matters are only a portion of the workload of a Justice of the Peace, that work needs to be emphasized. Over the last four years I have worked closely with Judge Beal on the issue of jail overcrowding and I have been impressed with his thoughtfulness in protecting community safety and using evidence over a “gut feeling.”
He has focused on avoiding incarcerating people simply because they are poor. At the same time, he was part of revamping the default bond schedule used in Missoula County so that defendants in serious cases do not have the ability to post bond without seeing a judge first.
As part of my job, I see every felony criminal defendant at their first appearance in District Court. I cannot think of an occasion where I had someone appear before me after being released without bail in Justice Court and wondered why the person wasn’t in jail. Judge Beal has been an important part of the shift in Missoula toward incarcerating only the people that truly need to be in jail to protect the community.
All of us living in Missoula County want a safe community with a low crime rate. However, we cannot achieve that goal through incarceration as some have suggested this election cycle.
Missoula County has been down that road in the past and filled the jail to overflowing without addressing the underlying issues of addiction and mental illness. Judge Beal is part of both a local and statewide effort to bring a more thoughtful approach to criminal justice. Judge Beal is who we need as a Justice of the Peace.
Jason Marks is a Missoula District Court judge.