Peter Ohman Swearing In Sandy Ernhardt

Gallatin County’s newest district court judge, Peter Ohman, swears in new Gallatin County Clerk of District Court Sandy Erhardt on Dec. 30.

at the Gallatin County Courthouse.

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Montana legislators heard a slew of support and no opposition Friday morning regarding the confirmation of Judge Peter Ohman to serve as the Department 3 judge in the Gallatin County District Court.

Ohman has been serving as judge for the first department of the District Court of Gallatin County for about six months, after his appointment by former Gov. Steve Bullock.

Bullock appointed Ohman and two other judges for district courts in Cascade County and Broadwater and Lewis and Clark counties, but all three will need to be confirmed by the Senate. Ohman, if confirmed, will serve the remainder of Judge Holly Brown’s term, which ends in 2025.

Earlier this month, Democrats raised concerns that the Legislature was waiting to schedule hearings over whether to confirm the judges until after Gov. Greg Gianforte signed SB 140, which gives the governor unilateral power to choose interim district and Supreme Court judges. It also strips power from the seven-person Judicial Nomination Commission, which is not affiliated with a political party.

Gianforte signed SB 140 into law last week. A group of former officials have asked the Montana Supreme Court to rule that the new law violates Montana’s constitution.

To confirm Ohman, the Senate Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate will need to pass Senate Resolution 47, sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell.

Regier is also the sponsor of SB 140.

Ohman told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday morning that he will have three major guiding principles that he’ll continue to bring to the position if he’s confirmed.

“One, I will bring humility to the bench. Two, I will bring my hard work ethic and my experience. And number three, I will stay in my lane,” Ohman said.

Ohman graduated from Le Moyne College and Lewis and Clark Law School and has experience with both civil and criminal law and representing children in youth courts and teaching business law at Montana State University.

He’s done private practice law and has worked as legal counsel for the Montana Department of Commerce. In the early 2000s, Ohman worked as the chief counsel for the Gallatin County public defender’s office and, in 2017, he moved to be the public defender division’s administrator.

“With that experience, I just felt like I was qualified for the position,” Ohman said. “I’ve done family law, I’ve done criminal law, I’ve done probate law, I’ve done guardianships, conservatorships, civil practice, criminal practice, child welfare cases … I haven’t done everything, but I’ve done quite a lot.”

Ohman has been presiding in the same courtroom that former District Judge Holly Brown retired from in the fall of 2020.

Holly Brown and current Gallatin County District Court judges John Brown and Rienne McElyea spoke in support of confirming Ohman’s appointment, as did Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert, retired Gallatin County District Court Judge Mike Salvagni, representatives for the Montana Judges Association, the Gallatin County Bar Association, the Gallatin County Association of Irrigators, the State Bar of Montana and the Montana Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

“He runs a good courtroom, he follows the law, he’s firm when he has to be but he’s also polite,” John Brown said. “He’s prepared when he goes to court, he does everything that you want a good judge to do.”

Nobody spoke in person or online against Ohman’s confirmation.

Multiple supporters of the confirmation mentioned the workload of district court judges in Gallatin County. The three judges who now preside over the District Court are each doing the workload of two people, Holly Brown said.

Ohman said he usually works six days a week and has taken only two two-day weekends since he began on Oct. 13. He spent two weeks shadowing Holly Brown prior to beginning his work as a district court judge.

“The first day that I was in court I had 26 hearings, and it just hasn’t let up since,” he said. “I knew that going in. You want to make sure you’re prepared when you come into court … that means a lot to people, that they know that you care about their cases.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee did not vote on SR 47 Friday morning. The committee has not yet set a date for a confirmation vote.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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