Juli Pierce has been working hard to protect Yellowstone County for the past 14 years — as a prosecutor of violent criminals, as a tireless advocate for abused children, as a treatment court team member and as a community volunteer.

Her extensive experience in Montana’s busiest judicial district makes Pierce the ideal candidate for District Court judge in Department 8 — one of two new judgeships that will be created in January. These new judges will have to hit the ground running in a district that by national standards actually needs seven more judges to handle its large and growing caseload.

Pierce is running for the nonpartisan office on the Nov. 6 ballot against Ashley Harada. Both Harada and Juli Pierce are active community volunteers. Both graduated from law school in 2004. Harada spent the next nine years working as a law clerk for former U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull and stayed in the federal system for a year after Cebull retired. She then opened her own solo law practice, handling civil litigation and criminal defense in federal and state courts.

Pierce worked for 13 years in the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor. She prosecuted some of the most heinous crimes in our county, specializing in bringing child abusers and sex offenders to justice. Along with Rod Souza, who is now a District Court judge, Pierce successfully prosecuted Toby Griego, who had terrorized Billings with a series of home invasions, brutal rapes, kidnappings and robberies. Pierce has tried 39 cases before a jury, a number that few attorneys ever reach.

County Attorney Scott Twito promoted Pierce to chief deputy attorney, making her responsible for helping him supervise an office with dozens of employees and thousands of cases.

Upon leaving the county office in 2017, Pierce joined the Moulton Bellingham law firm and began handling civil litigation, family law and some criminal defense cases. She also became a guardian ad litem, representing abused and neglected children in the foster care system. She has been appointed to represent 554 Yellowstone County kids in the past 11 months, including 300 that were still open when she spoke with The Gazette editorial board recently.

After graduating from Skyview High and earning a degree in criminal justice and sociology at Gonzaga University, Pierce worked for two years in child protection with the state of Montana. She frequently testified in District Court and saw the impact that attorneys and judges had on these children’s lives. That experience inspired her to go to law school. She returned to her hometown and worked to protect children as a deputy county attorney. That job included being part of the team for the Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court.

Pierce now is part of the Indian Child Welfare Act Court established by Judge Souza to improve outcomes for Native American children in the foster care system.

As a judge, Pierce will be well prepared to preside in a treatment court and she is committed to checking up on children’s cases regularly, so they don’t languish.

“Treatment courts are an important tool in the judge’s toolbox for high-risk, high-need people,” Pierce told the editorial board. “There needs to be more treatment courts.”

“I’ve seen it from both sides now, criminal defense and prosecution,” Pierce said. “I have spent my professional life protecting this community. I want to keep this community safe.”

As of early October, about 500 cases had already been assigned to Department 8 and a criminal jury trial was scheduled for the week after the new judge is sworn in Jan. 2. Pierce is the candidate with the experience in high volume, public scrutiny and tough decision-making to handle this crucial job with the common sense, fairness, and timeliness and that the people of Yellowstone County expect. We encourage voters to support Pierce.

Source: Billings Gazette