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Gary Hicks ideally suited to justice of the peace position

| October 18, 2006 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

I have been following the campaign for justice of the peace, District 1. I have been listening to the supporters and detractors of each of the two canditaes. I have done some inquiring on my own. And I have reached some conclusions.

Our current justice of the peace, Gary D. Hicks, has been a commercial pilot, a representative for an electrical engineering company, and (yes, it's true) he has worked as a car salesman and auto finance specialist. For many years he has also been a federally licensed firearms dealer, and does minor gunsmithing, repair and sales out of his small shop in Libby. He is an NRA certified instructor who teaches firearms safety, including qualified instruction for CCW applicants.

I have spoken to literally dozens of local folks who have done business with Judge Hicks over the years, and to a number who have faced him in justice court for traffic and misdemeanor offenses as well as civil issues. Almost universally their input has reflected a respect for his honesty and integrity, and for his thoughtful fair-mindedness. Now I have also heard of some blistering (and foul-mouthed) criticisms, but these have been almost exclusively second-hand hearsay gossip, or broad and vague generalizations - offered without any specific detail.

I have tried to analyze some of these attacks. The most common, "he's a lousy judge" or "he makes terrible decisions" (both statements are paraphrased - I choose to omit the vulgar language used in their recital to me) offered no specific case or cases to examine, so I looked at and reply to these charges broadly, just as they were made.

Decisions made in any and all courts are sometimes challenged. After all, it is in the nature of the process that some party may be dissatisfied. So a good measure of the efficacy of any judge in any court is the number and/or percentage of decisions made by that court which are overturned on review by a higher court. None (zero, nada, zip, ziltch, goose egg) of Judge Hicks' justice court decisions have been overturned by any other court, up to and including the Supreme Court of the state of Montana. This speaks directly to the good judgment of this judge!

But the justice of the peace does more than sit on the bench hearing cases. Another important aspect of his or her responsibility is management of the justice court. It is the judge's job to see that the process is run smoothly, efficiently and effectively, and that the rights of the people - plaintiffs and defendants, accusers and accused - are respected and protected. A good measure of any judge's management ability might be a simple check of the number of cases dismissed because of the court's failure to provide a speedy trial for a criminal defendant. In his four years serving Lincoln County not a single case has been dropped because of Judge Hicks' court failing to provide a speedy trial.

Additionally, while expenses have increased for nearly all of us over the last four years the budget of the justice court in Libby has not gone up a penny, yet the court operates more effectively and efficiently than before. I am compelled to credit that fact to simple good management.

It begins to look as though some of the harshest criticism aimed at Judge Hicks is just a case of "sour grapes." One might think that any judge, past or present, who was truly concerned with the responsible administration of justice in Lincoln County would look to Judge Hicks' impressive record and applaud his accomplishments in service to the people of this county.

I have known Judge Hicks for several years. I have worked with him and believe that I know him well. I supported him in his first campaign because I thought his intellect and temperament were ideally suited to the position. His first four years of service have confirmed that belief.

John Massey