Snipes Ruiz: 'I'm ready' to start as state judge
January 23, 2019
The youngest state district judge in Montana history and first female judge in the state’s 12th Judicial District said she is honored to be selected and excited to start her duties on the bench.
“I’m ready,” Kaydee Snipes Ruiz said before she was sworn in Tuesday in the district courtroom in the Hill County Courthouse. “I’m ready for the challenge and I’m ready to dive in with both feet.”
Snipes Ruiz takes the place of Judge Dan Boucher, who retired last November.
As the youngest district judge in Montana history, she said, she is confident in her ability to perform the job well.
“I’ve been the youngest, you know, in a lot of ways moving forward,” she said.
She added that most people don’t go from their undergraduate program straight into law school. She was one of the youngest people in her class graduating.
Ruiz said she was born and raised in Great Falls and graduated from C.M. Russell High School. She then obtained her bachelor’s degree in sociology with justice studies and a minor in political science from Montana State University in Bozeman before graduating from Gonzaga University Law School in 2011 at the age of 24.
She said she moved to Havre in 2011 as a practicing attorney, working originally in Lorang Law, before starting with the Office of the State Public Defender in 2014 as an assistant attorney. She said she worked as a public defender for five years and left as the regional deputy public defender.
Her favorite part about working as a public defender, she said, was working with people, and she thinks that will translate into her job as the district judge.
Snipes Ruiz said she has seen some inefficiencies in the district judge position in her five years of practice, adding that she thinks moving forward there will be some changes.
The court has a backlog, she said, but she is excited to start and to get things going in the office.
She said some things that need to be changed are the utilization of technology that is available in the office. Right now, she said, they can utilize the technology to save the sheriff’s office some money and save the taxpayers some time in court proceedings. She added that this is something she wants to start changing right away.
Snipes Ruiz said another item that she would like to change immediately is how the scheduling is drawn up for days the judge hears cases. The judge doesn’t sit every day, she said. Snipes Ruiz said setting things up through block scheduling would help assure things are well-organized and running smoothly. She added that, in the past, the court had “no rhyme or reason” to how the cases were organized, with everything just lumped together during certain times.
With her change, “people can use that to work their schedules and it can be more predictable and it can flow a little better,” Snipes Ruiz said.
She said the process of her appointment started in October.
In order to apply, she said, candidates had to be in practice more than five years, in good standing with the bar and live in the region. Candidates also had to submit an application and have a public comment period open for people to write in and say what they thought of the candidates.
The other applicants were Havre attorney Randy Randolph, Big Sandy attorney Tom Sheehy and Chouteau County Attorney Steve Gannon.
Out of four candidates, she said, the Judicial Nomination Committee interviewed and selected three candidates — herself, Randolph and Sheehy — to send to the governor’s office to select as the new judge.
“It was nerve-racking,” Snipes Ruiz said. “… It was all very exciting for me and my family.”
She added that she and her husband and daughter were very excited throughout the entire process.
“It is pretty surreal,” she said, “I would say that it’s pretty surreal, but also I feel as though it was a situation where it was the right place, the right time and the right context to do it.”
She said she tells people that she is never the smartest person in the room, although she is always willing to work hard and learn and get things figured out.
Snipes Ruiz said she sees potential in the community through her membership in a variety of clubs and organizations over the years.
She said the majority of her experience is in criminal cases, so she sees more-complicated civil cases as more challenging, although, she added, because of her age she has the energy to spend the time learning and studying the subject.
She said that with no sitting judge in the district since November, various judges from different districts in the state have substituted in District 12 on different cases.
“Everything has just been hovering and waiting,” she said.
“I’ve come into a very warm and welcoming situation in the fact that there have been a lot of judges that have been around, willing to help out,” she added.
She said that with her history as a public defender she may not be able to preside over some cases initially due to a conflict of interest from previous relationships with the client. She added that some of the cases that have been backlogged are her former cases. In those situations, she said, a judge from another district would have to come in to preside over the case.
“It’s pretty common,” Ruiz said.