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Billings swears in new municipal court judge



Billings, Montana – In an attempt to manage the overabundance of court cases, Billings appointed a new municipal court judge.

Judge Sheila Kolar will be assisted by Katie Heller, who was sworn in on Tuesday after being elected in November.

Two judges will now handle thousands of cases each.

Both public safety and the effectiveness of the criminal justice system will benefit from the appointment of this new judge.

Heller was sworn in by District Judge Donald Harris of Yellowstone County.

“It’s a little overwhelming,” Heller said. “Driving to work was a unique experience.”

To help with public safety, a full-time judge and other city employees were added in 2021 thanks to a $7.1 million mill tax.

“It wasn’t just judges,” said Kolar. “They got additional law enforcement, different safety to help with the safety of this community.”

According to Kolar, the city has 16,000 cases, thus assistance is required.

“DUIs, thefts, open containers, municipal infractions, code infractions, orders or protection,” Kolar said.

Since 2011, Kolar has presided over exclusively city courts, and according to her, some of those cases had an impact on the Yellowstone County Detention Facility.

“It affects the justice system,” Kolar said. “In that, we have another person to help with the caseload. We’ve been fairly lucky in being able to process the cases.”

Now, with 8,000 cases apiece, the two judges will divide the workload. It’s more doable, but still a lot.

“Having two judges on the bench will allow for both the judges to give more time and effort into each case that they see,” Heller said. “Which will affect public safety.”

“I’m so excited for Katie,” Harris said.

“She’s practiced in front of me,” Kolar said about Heller, who has been a defense attorney. “She’s always prepared, polite, great demeanor.”

“I’m so excited for what you’re going to do for the community,” Heller’s mom said at the ceremony. “I’m very proud of you Katie.”

“I was a little nervous,” Heller said. “But it was a very exciting process. Had a lot of support here, which is a good feeling. And I’m excited to serve the Billings community.”


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