Major Structural Change Recommended for Montana Public Defender System
Missoula-area Representative Kimberly Dudik is the chair of the Task Force in State Public Defender Operations, which agreed on Monday to bring seven bills to the upcoming Montana Legislative Session. Dudik says two of the bills will create major changes to the system, including a new “holistic” justice system that will be tested in four Montana cities or towns.
"We are going to be exploring providing 'holistic' defense," said Dudik. "Frequently they will have not only a criminal justice issue where they are facing a charge, but also possible chemical dependency issues or mental health problems. There is a treatment team that helps this person overcome these issues so hopefully they can get out of thew criminal justice system."
Montana’s current public defender system has been around for about a decade and the Task Force agreed that the volunteer commission that oversees the system needs a new, permanent cabinet position to oversee operations.
"You need an executive director," Dudik said. "You really need somebody who is essentially the captain of the ship. You need someone who is going to be looking over the budget and someone who is going to be held accountable for performance of the agency and how funds are expended, basically making sure the system functions appropriately to the best of its ability."
Dudik says they are working to make sure the position isn’t partisan, and that the position won’t be refilled when a new Governor takes office. Dudik said the vote for these measures was unanimous, which is difficult to achieve as there as there is a mix of three democrats and three republicans in the 11 member Task Force.