Veteran judge, attorney running for District Court

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Vanessa Ceravolo

After sailing through the primary election, an 18-year municipal judge and a Kalispell attorney are facing off for the Department 3 district judge position being vacated by Flathead District Judge Stewart Stadler.

Heidi Ulbricht and Vanessa Ceravolo were able to coast through because district judge seats are nonpartisan positions, so the top two vote-getters in the primary automatically advance. Their names were still on the June primary ballot, however, with Ulbricht capturing 67 percent of the vote to Ceravolo’s 33 percent.

Ulbricht has been Kalispell municipal judge for nearly two decades and has had her eyes on a district judge position ever since she graduated from law school and began clerking for a district judge out of Idaho.

She said one of the primary requirements of Stadler’s replacement will be to have judicial experience and the ability to immediately handle a full docket. Ulbricht said she handled roughly 7,000 cases in municipal court during 2011, compared to 5,000 filed in Flathead District Court.

If elected, Ulbricht would like to start a DUI/drug court along the same lines as the one she has started in  Kalspell Municipal Court, which she said has had positive results.

“It is a program for adults that have substance abuse issues that have been charged with a DUI, for example, that holds the offender accountable by having to make weekly court appearances, undergo drug testing and intensive chemical dependency treatment,” Ulbricht said.

She said the weekly court appearances for eligible people would probably be a minimum of 18 months, and admitted that it would increase the load on the court calendar, at least on the front end.

“I’m willing to add that into my calendar and take that on, but I think on the back side it would save on revocations that would have to be filed and on follow-up court appearances,” Ulbricht said.

Ceravolo has spent the last 20 years practicing law in Kalispell and has focused her total 28 years of practice primarily on civil and family law cases.

She said that gives her an advantage, estimating that fully 86 percent of District Court cases involve civil and family law, while only 14 percent are criminal cases. Because of that, she argues, it is critical that there are judges who have extensive civil and family law backgrounds.

“Having judges with experience in those issues, when assessing the best interests of children in particular, is critical,” Ceravolo said.

Ceravolo’s background includes her achievement of the rank of captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army, as well as serving as a settlement master and appellate mediator for the last 20 years.

One of Ceravolo’s goals if elected is to continue seeking a solution to what she sees as a large problem in the legal system: people with no legal background representing themselves in court.

A person involved in a civil or family law matter who cannot afford an attorney does not have a legal right to free legal assistance,” Ceravolo said.

“Although there is a growing effort between the Northwest Montana Bar Association and the Flathead County District Court to provide assistance for self-represented parties dealing with family matters, it is not enough and a solution is critical to the day-to-day function of our court.”

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at jdavis@dailyinterlake.com.


Heidi Ulbricht

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