By Angel Wyrwas
This year’s City Judge election will be conducted solely through the use of mail-in-only ballots. Ballots will be mailed out October 18 to voters in Wards I & II and must be returned to the office of the Election Administrator by 8p.m. November 7, 2017. The Election Administrator advises voters to drop their ballots at the courthouse instead of mailing if it is within several days of the deadline.
Incumbent Judge Nicole Benefiel was born and raised in Baker, Montana. “I was always fascinated with the legal field,” said Judge Benefiel. After high school, she enrolled in the College of Legal Arts in Portland, Oregon. Judge Benefiel graduated within 13 months of admission from this typically 4-year school, challenging many courses & excelling in the mandatory classes.
She worked as the Clerk of Justice and City Court from 2001-2008. In October of 2008, Judge Benefiel was appointed to the positions of Fallon County Justice of the Peace and Baker City Judge due to a vacancy in the office. She has served in this capacity since that time.
“I have continued enhancing my judicial education through attending numerous courses at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada; the Montana Supreme Court educational conferences & required certification tests; the National Judges Association Educational Conferences, as well as the American Bar Association’s educational webinars,” said Judge Benefiel. “I am presently enrolled in the Judicial Studies Certification Program through the National Judicial College and also serve as a faculty facilitator. I currently represent the Montana judiciary at the national level as Vice-President of the National Judges Association.”
“Since taking the bench, it has been my pleasure to bring education and awareness to our community through programs such as “Alive at 25”, Respect the Cage, as well as the shocking exhibit of Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Michael Hayne’s wrecked patrol car, reflecting the catastrophic aftermath of a drunk driving collision,” said Judge Benefiel. “I continue to look for programs that will provide interactive education & awareness for our community.”
“I have a strong passion for the integrity of the judiciary, and I take my Oath of Office seriously,” continued Judge Benefiel. “It is my strong belief that your elected officials be ever mindful of this pledge to you, the People, when carrying out the duties of their office. It would be my great honor to continue serving this community as your City Judge.”
When she’s not working, Judge Benefiel enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband Jim. “I love spending quality time with both my family and my church family,” said Judge Benefiel. “Faith is very important in my life.” Her daughter, Tesla, is a junior at Baker High School and her son Treston is in his first year at North Dakota State College of Science.
City Judge candidate Anna Straub is no stranger to the judiciary field. “I served four years as Clerk for Roddy Rost,” said Straub. “Then I served as Fallon County Justice of the Peace and Baker City Judge for ten years.”
Straub decided to run for city judge again when people began approaching her to get back into office. “I hadn’t really considered it but so many people asked me to put my name on the ballot,” said Straub, “that it became a real question and a serious decision to want to seek this.”
“I left the office in 2008 to take care of some things in my life at the time,” said Straub. “It allowed me to get out amongst the people in this city and really see them. I worked in the Reynold’s Bakery and the Insurance Store. People work so hard…it changes your worldview when you really see people for whom they are and how hard everyone is working to make it. It gives you a new perspective.”
Straub wants to make sure that people have a voice in their local court. “City court should be accessible, especially in a small community,” said Straub. “It’s about due process and erring on the side of caution. Innocent until proven guilty…it’s so important. A lack of due process means a violation of rights. The biggest thing is accountability, not condemnation. Consider the person and what is going on in their life with respect to the law.”
“It’s so important to me to be that judge that is neutral,” continued Straub. “I don’t want to be associated with this thing or that thing because the court is there for the defendant.” Straub says she was a former member of the Montana Magistrates Association and the National Judges Association and would be again if she were to be elected.
“I was attending a judges conference some years past,” said Straub, “when one of the Supreme Justices asked us to raise our hands if we had a lot of jury trials. A lot of judges raised their hands but I didn’t. Then he asked us to raise our hands if we had a lot of bench trials. I raised my hand tentatively. ‘Great’ he said, ‘because that means the people in your community trust you.’ A limited jurisdiction should be people friendly, not complicated.”
Anna and her husband, Terry, like to ride into the sunset on their Harley Davidson motorcycle when they get a chance. They also like to spend time with their children and grandchildren. Straub’s daughter, Katie, is a special education teacher in Las Vegas. Their son, Aaron, is a mechanical engineer and lives with his family in Texas. Another son, Lane, owns and operates Straub Heating and Cooling in Baker where he lives with his family. “I’m a simple, small town girl that’s passionate about home, family and community,” said Straub. “I want to be elected because I want the people to have a voice.”