Missoula County Justice of the Peace Department #1

Local Election Guide

Voter Information: Incumbent Alex Beal, Bill Burt and Daniel Chris Kaneff are running for the Justice of the Peace Department 1. Voters have the option to vote for one on the June 7 ballot. The two candidates that receive the most votes will appear on the General Election ballot in November. Candidates responded to provided questions (bold) in 500 words or less. Absentee ballots have been mailed to all registered voters. Voting will occur in-person June 7 at Seeley Lake Elementary from 7 a.m. - 8 p.m. For other polling places visit My Voter Page (https://app.mt.gov/voterinfo/). For more information visit the Missoula County Elections Office (missoulacounty.us/government/administration/elections-office) or call 406-258-4751.

Judge Alex Beal - Incumbent

Biography: I have lived in Missoula County for over 25 years, the last 19 in Lolo with my wife Bridgett where we are raising two sons. I was on the Lolo School Board for five years.

Experience, skills, strengths: I graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 2005 and have practiced law since, as a prosecutor and then as a private attorney doing criminal defense, real estate and estate planning. I was elected your Justice of the Peace in 2018. I now serve as a training judge for the State, helping new judges learn the skills they need to take the bench. The Montana Supreme Court chose me to represent all of Montana's JPs on the statewide Pretrial Advisory Committee which implements new pretrial strategies to safely reduce the number of people in jail awaiting trial without compromising community safety. Please see judgebeal.com for a full list.

Why do you want to be the Justice of the Peace? You may have seen me, the guy in a bow tie on TV, setting high bonds on violent offenses. A lot of people think that's what being a JP consists of. Most of what we deal with, however, are traffic tickets and civil cases like evictions and small claims. Judges get the opportunity to take a negative event and help it have a positive impact on someone's life. I have seen the impact of my work on individuals over the years and I'm honored to have been granted the opportunity to do that work. Being any judge requires deep knowledge of the court rules and that's even more true for the "people's court." I know the law backwards and forwards so that if you come to court you don't have to.

What would you like to see changed or what issues would you address if elected? Talking about what a person might do is easy, I prefer to talk about what I have done. Prior to my election in 2018, Justice Court was a dysfunctional mess. I was able to work collaboratively with the other elected Judge Landee Holloway and our great staff to create a court with clear rules and simple forms that provide guidance and (hopefully) make court less confusing and scary. Justice Court is now a court of record, meaning that everything your judges do can be reviewed, providing accountability to the community. If you allow me another term, I will continue to make justice court easier to access for the people of Missoula County. For instance, we've expanded the use of video and telephone appearances so that people in places like Seeley don't have to drive to Missoula for most court appearances.

What challenges do you see facing the office of Justice of the Peace and how would you address them? COVID was a reminder that change is a constant. My training and experience allowed justice court to adapt to rapidly changing federal and state laws and to explain those changes clearly to people who deal with justice court. I can't predict what challenges the future will hold but under my leadership justice court will continue to be ready for them.

Bill Burt

Biography: I am a life-long native of Montana and have spent the past 21 years in Missoula. After high school, I immediately enrolled in college where I earned as Associates Degree in law enforcement, a career which started when I was 21 years old. For the past 17 years, I worked for the Missoula County Sheriff's Office where I served as a patrol deputy, assistant shift supervisor, patrol sergeant, patrol captain, and administrative captain.

Experience, skills, strengths: Serving as an administrator, I've had the unique opportunity to work with the sheriff on jail diversion programs and believe this experience makes me best suited for determining who can benefit from which programs and those who aim to exploit them. Recidivism rates are still too high and there are far too many mentally ill people still in jail. This doesn't mean the programs aren't working but there needs to be better balance in determining who can benefit from the diversion processes. 

Why do you want to be the Justice of the Peace? Simply put, crime in Missoula County is out of control. There has been a 43% increase in violent crime and about 40% of that is being committed by people that are from other jurisdictions. There are three main components to deal with crime rates: local law enforcement, prosecution and the courts. Our law enforcement officers are doing a fantastic job of getting criminals off the streets but often find them either unprosecuted or released from jail before they can get their paperwork done. I believe we can do better with prosecutions and holding people accountable for their actions.

What would you like to see changed or what issues would you address if elected? As mentioned above, we need to do a better job of protecting victims and holding offenders accountable. This doesn't mean to lock people up and throw away the key but there must be better accountability.

What challenges to you see facing the office for Justice of Peace and how would you address them? If anyone were to deny that we are facing huge challenges, then they wouldn't be being honest with you. Funding for mental health issues is diminishing and there are fewer and fewer treatment options available. Quite often, mental health issues lead to criminal behavior putting the person in our jail, and sometimes for long periods of time. This adds to our current jail over-crowding issue. When COVID was really beginning to hit Missoula County, people who were being held for non-violent misdemeanor issues were released but the jail almost instantly filled again with violent and felony offenders. Simply put, the jail is out of room and "building a bigger jail" isn't always the answer. The biggest of the challenges our courts are facing right now is to come up with solutions to the mental health crisis in our community and to figure out how to keep Missoula a safe place to live, work and raise our kids.

Daniel Chris Kaneff

Biography: I was born in Missoula in 1970 and returned after an eight-year tour in the US Marine Corps, which included the Operation Desert Storm/Shield. I attended the University of Montana from 1996 to 2002 when I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Business Administration

Experience, skills, strengths: I began my law enforcement career in 2000 when the Missoula Police Dept hired me as an officer. I retired as a corporal/street supervisor in 2021. My experience as a street cop dealing with the challenges of a growing city with growing problems is unsullied and unparalleled. My military career did not end with the Marine Corps, as I joined the Montana Army National Guard in 1996 and served two more tours in Iraq as an Infantry Platoon Leader and Company Commander. I retired from the National Guard in 2012 as a Captain.

Why do you want to be the Justice of the Peace? My experience, ethical values and lifetime of service lend to my ability to perform the duties as JP in a manner that makes Missoula a safer place for all of us. I was born here, all of my children were born here. I want to make sure we are able to pass on a place that has the best Montana has to offer to generations to come.

What would you like to see changed or what issues would you address if elected? Missoula has grown by more that 60% since the jail opened and it was full almost immediately upon opening in 1999. Letting criminals not pay their debt to society is not making us any safer. We need a bigger jail and a plan for the future to ensure that we are not letting people out of what they owe to society because the jail is "full." I will be an ambassador to that end and will hold people accountable for their actions.

What challenges to you see facing the office for Justice of Peace and how would you address them? Holding people accountable for their actions seems to be out of vogue lately. I plan to ensure that I do my part to bring that value back to the justice system and to Missoula as a whole. 


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