With more than 20,700 ballots counted, Missoula Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks held an eight point lead — 53.8 percent to 45.8 percent — over challenger Brendan McQuillan for another four-year term on the bench.
Jenks has been Municipal Court judge since she was appointed to the position in 2011 following the resignation of former judge Donald Louden, and won an election in 2013.
During the campaign, Jenks touted her revamps of court process, saying she has made it her goal over her tenure to ensure that the law is applied uniformly to all parties, something for which she criticized her predecessor. Jenks also turned one of her clerk positions into a settlement master to help speed up the process of dealing with traffic tickets, and canceled thousands of active warrants that she found were illegitimately issued.
The judge sat on the steering committee that crafted the city-county Jail Diversion Master Plan, and said she believes more use of programs like misdemeanor probation and other monitoring services, as well as jail work release, can be useful as alternatives for incarceration.
Jenks has also called for more long-term treatment beds for people with mental health or substance abuse issues.
A Missoula native, McQuillan worked as a public defense attorney in Billings and Helena after graduating from law school at the University of Montana. He then came back to Missoula and worked as the legal counsel for the Montana Innocence Project before moving to Lake County three years ago.
McQuillan worked in the public defender’s office in Polson for a year before moving to his current job as a county prosecutor focused on sexual assault and domestic violence.
McQuillan has said he took the job in Polson as a way to eventually get hired by the public defender’s office or prosecutor’s office in Missoula so he could move back to town.
During the campaign, McQuillan criticized Jenks as being too strict in court, and using jail time and legal fines on low-income defendants or those who don’t obey court orders. He also said friends who work as defense attorneys in court tell him that Jenks is unfair to them and their clients.