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Billings swears in new municipal court judge

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Posted at 10:12 PM, Jan 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-03 00:14:39-05

Billings has a new municipal court judge as the city aims to deal with an overload of court cases.

Katie Heller was elected in November and sworn in on Tuesday to serve alongside Judge Sheila Kolar.

Thousands of cases will now be split between two judges.

This new judge will help with public safety as well as the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

Yellowstone County District Judge Donald Harris swore in Heller.

"It's a little overwhelming," Heller said. "Driving to work was a unique experience."

A $7.1 million mill levy in 2021 made it possible to add a full-time judge and other city personnel to help with public safety.

"It wasn't just judges," sai Kolar. "They got additional law enforcement, different safety to help with the safety of this community."

Kolar says the city has 16,000 cases, meaning the help is needed.

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

Kolar has been the only city judge since 2011, and she says some of those cases affect 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 the two judges will share the workload, each having 8,000 cases. It's still a lot, but more manageable.

"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 obviously 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. Obviously had a lot of support here, which is a good feeling. And I'm excited to serve the Billings community."