BILLINGS (AP) – Diane Barz, a woman who marked many firsts in Montana’s judicial circles, has died. She was 70.
Barz died Wednesday after a nearly eight-year battle with cancer, Michelotti-Sawyers Mortuary in Billings said.
Barz was the only woman in the University of Montana law school’s graduating class of 1968 and was the first woman to serve on Montana’s Supreme Court.
In between, she was the first female law clerk with the Montana Supreme Court, the first female deputy Yellowstone County Attorney, and with Doris Poppler ran the first all-women law firm in the Pacific Northwest from 1973 to 1979. Barz was the first woman elected to a District Court judgeship in Montana and served for 22 years. She also ran the Youth Court for more than 15 years.
Gov. Stan Stephens appointed Barz as the first woman to serve on the Montana Supreme Court in September 1989. Court Clerk Ed Smith said she resigned in 1990 because her family wasn’t living in Helena.
From 1991 to 1994, she served as an assistant U.S. Attorney and then was elected to two more terms as a District Court judge before retiring in 2003.
“Without a doubt she was a trailblazer for women in the legal profession,” Mark Parker, Billings attorney and president-elect of the State Bar of Montana, told The Billings Gazette. He called Barz a smart and competent judge who could be tough.
“No one walked into the courtroom with any misunderstanding as to who was in charge. No one left the courtroom with a doubt as to who won or who lost,” Parker said Thursday.
Barz conducted two investigations for the University of Montana. In 2004, she investigated a nearly $1 million shortfall in the athletic department in which she found negligence, but no intentional wrongdoing. In 2011, she investigated allegations that two students had been drugged and raped by other students in late 2011.
She uncovered nine reported sexual assaults between September 2010 and December 2011, and one case led to a conviction. Barz determined the university had “a problem of sexual assault on and off campus” that needed to be corrected. She said she was disappointed that some students with knowledge of sexual assaults lied to her.
In recent years, Barz served as a temporary judge in several courts in western Montana.
Barz also enjoyed hunting, fishing and evening boat rides around Wildhorse Island on Flathead Lake. She attended 46 straight Cat-Griz football games with her husband, Dan, who graduated from Montana State.
Barz is survived by her husband of 44 years; their son, Rocky; and a grandson, Brendan.
A memorial service is scheduled for May 28 at First Presbyterian Church in Billings.