By Rhonda Petersen
The newly elected Hill County justice of the peace didn't have to wait long to start his new job.
Just two days after the general election, retired Montana Highway Patrol Sgt. Terry Stoppa was sworn in as the new Hill County justice of the peace in a short ceremony in the chambers of the Hill County Commission.
Stoppa on Tuesday easily defeated substitute teacher and former vocational counselor Ramon "Ray" Bergh, receiving nearly triple the amount of votes of his opponent.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said the commission decided to swear Stoppa in Thursday to fill the vacancy created when longtime Hill County Justice of the Peace Carol Chagnon retired in April. Chagnon cited her husband Paul's poor health as the reason for her retirement.
State law dictates that county commissioners are in charge of filling any vacancy in a county office. In the wake of Chagnon's retirement announcement, Joyce Perszyk initially volunteered to replace Chagnon until the November election in addition to performing her own duties as city judge. When Perszyk changed her mind and withdrew her offer, the Hill County Commission appointed Havre lawyer Lane Hauge to temporarily fill the position. Montana law states the appointee to a vacancy filled by the County Commission holds the office until the person elected in the general election is certified.
Following the official canvass of the election results by the Hill County commissioners and the clerk and recorder, Stoppa was able to take the oath of office and assume the position of justice of the peace. The remainder of the newly elected county officials will begin their terms on Jan. 1.
Stoppa said he has resigned from his position with the Montana Department of Transporation and is eager to begin his new job.
"I'm going to jump in with both feet," he said.
One of his first tasks as justice of the peace will be to attend a mandatory judicial training session held Nov. 15-22 in Whitefish. Stoppa said the training offers a variety of classes including courses specially designed for new justices of the peace. The judicial training session is one of two yearly sessions offered by the state of Montana and supervised by the state Supreme Court.
Stoppa will earn an annual salary of $32,423.68 as justice of the peace.