Hill County justice of the peace candidate Cathy Chinske Huston said she has wanted to run for a judge position for a long time, and she decided to run this year because she believes her experience over the last 20 years has given her what she needs to excel in the position.
“I wanted to build my experience and build my training … I wanted to build a foundation before I ran,” she said.
Huston faces Audrey Barger in the nonpartisan race.
She said she would not have filed as a candidate if the current justice, Terry Stoppa, had filed for re-election.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, and I have some big shoes to fill, but I feel now I have experience,” Huston said.
Huston entered the field of law straight out of high school, earning an associate degree in law enforcement from Dawson Community College in Glendive in 1992. She started as a reserve police officer straight out of college, later becoming a full-time officer and earning the rank of sergeant, before leaving the force to start working her current job as a criminal investigator in the Public Defender’s Office.
She also has worked in private industry as a retail loss control officer, and worked in the office of the local drug task force.
But moving on to judge was something she always has had in mind, Huston said.
“It’s something you are meant to to,” she said. “It’s in your gut, and you have to go for it.”
She said she believes she is the best candidate because of her wide range of experience, from making the arrests and investigating incidents as a police officer to working on the defense side and walking people through the often “confusing criminal justice system.”
She said her knowledge of both sides, along with knowing the statutes, gives her an understanding of “the nuts and bolts from either side.
“That gives me an edge that, to my knowledge, no other candidate has been able to bring to a courtroom,” Huston added.
She said her jobs on the Havre police force and the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force also have given her experience in supervising and with statistical and financial reporting and budgeting.
Another strength is that she is very approachable, Huston said.
“I have good communications skills,” Huston said. “With my law enforcement and current job, I have to be able to treat people fairly and with respect.”
She said she has several ideas she would like to pursue if elected, including using an ankle bracelet that monitors people convicted of alcohol-related offenses and notifies the supervising agency if the person illegally consumes alcohol. That also holds the offender, who has to pay for the monitoring, financially responsible, Huston added.
Another is exploring alternate times for hearings, possibly holding them one or two evenings a week so people — who have not yet been convicted — don’t have to leave their jobs or school for hearings such as to enter their plea.
Huston said she also would like to look into hiring a compliance officer to work on collecting outstanding fines and fees. Such a position should pay for itself and has worked in other counties including Blaine County, she said.
She said she also would like to work to find ways to increase sentences including community service, which usually is a problem due to lack of people to supervise the work. Huston added that she would like to work with other jurisdictions, such as the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation courts, to increase and improve the use of community service.
“Those are some things I want to explore, and I don’t know if they will work but I want to explore it,” she said.