55° F
55° F
Partly Cloudy
Partly Cloudy
56° F

Retiring District Judges recall their legal careers

Published On: Dec 27 2012 06:08:27 PM MST

In January, the Flathead County District Court will lose a combined 46 years of judicial experience as Judges Katherine Curtis and Stewart Stadler step down from the bench and into retirement.

Katherine "Kitty" Curtis is the Flathead's first female district court judge, and moved to Montana on a whim. Stewart Stadler is a Montana native who worked a lot of jobs before jumping into district court. Both tell me they couldn't be more different in the courtroom.

"From comments from folks you can figure out just how different we are. He's much more laid back than I am," said Curtis, who tells NBC Montana she's been described as "very demanding."

"She's a great judge," said Stadler. "She probably does more detail than I do to ensure that it doesn't come back."

Similarly, they've tackled some difficult cases in the past few years. Stadler worked on the Tyler Miller death penalty trail which generated an overflow of paperwork.

"They hire attorneys that do just that case. So you almost get overwhelmed with paperwork," explained Stadler. "The law would work it out. If he was guilty, he would be found guilty."

Curtis took on the Justine Winter case - "It was a crime that had so many compelling issues to it - from the victim's standpoint to the offender's."

It's a tough job, but Curtis said it's easy to remain unbiased when you respect the law.

"You're going to step back and assess things objectively and try to follow the law as best you can and come up with a fair decision," Curtis explained.

The judges said they're ready to take the next step in their lives - hanging up their robes and passing the gavels to Robert Allison and Heidi Ulbrict in just a few weeks.

"Both of the new judges have the ability and very quickly will get up to speed but there's going to be a learning curve," said Stadler.

Curtis said she was in the same position when she began 18 years ago, "It took me a while! They'll get there."