BILLINGS — "When your age starts with a seven and you’ve served 21 years, that’s a pretty good run."
There's no questioning Gregory Todd's decision to retire Friday as the senior judge of Montana's 13th district. The 21 years doesn't even cover half of his service to the law - Todd spent 23 years as an attorney beforehand. It was a life he dreamed of.
"My best friend in high school’s father was a lawyer, Jack Dietrich," Todd said. "I spent a lot of my high school days at the Dietrich household. He was a mentor to me, and I wanted to be just like him."
Todd was appointed by Governor Marc Racicot in 2000. He knew it would be an entirely new challenge from day one.
"I walked on to the bench my first day - it was a simple youth court arraignment - and I froze," Todd recalled. "I’d been in court hundreds or thousands of times, but the view from the bench is entirely different with everybody waiting for me to say something. Fortunately the prosecutor broke the ice."
Todd took command from there. By the mid 2000's, it seemed he presided over every high profile case in the district. In 2005, his courtroom was in the national CourtTV spotlight when Laurel resident Sabine Bieber was charged with negligent homicide of a 1-year-old.
"We had to make sure cameras didn’t show the faces of jurors. We had to make sure people were not grandstanding for the cameras," Todd said. "It was daunting as a relatively young judge.
"But I figured it was an open court room and they could do that, if they were willing to play by our rules, and they were."
Just a year later, Todd faced a very different request: a one-on-one meeting with convicted murderer David Dawson, who was asking to end his appeal process and for Todd to set his execution date.
"Dawson tested at an IQ of 104 when he was fist imprisoned," Todd remembered. "When he wanted to give up his appeal rights, his IQ was 141. He said, 'I'm not crazy. I've spent 23 hours per day for over 20 years in a 12x12 cell, and I can’t put up with that.'"
Dawson died by lethal injection on August 11, 2006. He remains the last person to be executed by the state of Montana.
Todd told us he does not believe the death penalty to be a criminal deterrent, so five years later, he levied what he considers to be his most harsh sentence to Lucien Bonck after the 58-year-old was convicted of raping a seven-year-old girl. Todd’s ruling? Six life sentences without parole, plus 100 years.
"The psychosexual report for Lucien Bonck found that he was a sociopath, and it wasn't even close - he was well over the level," Todd said. "I had no doubts that if he ever got out he’d keep doing the same thing.
"Some people might say that was overkill on that sentence, but I thought it sent a message and he earned it. And I don't regret that a bit."
Shortly after that, Todd started what he calls the greatest work of his career, presiding over the Family Recovery Treatment Court which tries to reunite parents battling addiction with their children.
"I was skeptical at first, but during my tenure, I’ve come to really believe in system," Todd admitted. "I’ve come to believe it’s worth time and effort for us as a state, as a society to make that effort. Because if we don’t, we’ll continue to spawn generation after generation with those continuing problems, and we need to intervene and try to help."
Todd’s last day in drug court was Thursday, where longtime participants flipped the script and sentenced him as a thanks for his years of help. While his judicial career may be at an end, his service to law isn’t. Todd says he’s going to try mediation, mainly because...
"I’m not a mechanic or woodworker, so I need to do something," he laughed.
A 1977 graduate of the University of Montana law school, Todd will also get to a few more Griz football games. But should you plan to see him in Texas for Montana State’s National Championship game appearance on January 8?
"No, but good luck to the Cats," he said.