Missoula Justice of the Peace Karen Orzech announced on Wednesday that she is planning to retire in early July.

Orzech, 60, has spent the last 17 years as a Justice of the Peace, presiding over Missoula Justice Court, usually the first place a defendant sees as they enter the judicial system. Orzech described her role.

"I'm required as a judge to read them their rights, tell them what they're charged with and appoint them an attorney," she said. "As a judge, most people know, I have quite a sense of humor, and 99,9 percent of the people that appear are regular people just like you and me, and I use my sense of humor to make myself more approachable."

Orzech said that does not apply when she sees defendants who are charged with what can be described as heinous crimes.

"I have to be much more serious, as there may be a victim's family in the gallery, or an alleged victim in the courtroom," she said. And, there are times when the magnitude of the alleged crimes can be nearly overwhelming.

"I have to but my emotions aside, because it's part of my job," she said. "I think sometimes I may be a victim of a bit of secondary post traumatic stress disorder. In addition, there are times when I have to see up to 45 people in a single day, and that's hard."

Orzech conducted a wedding just prior to this interview, and she said weddings are part of the job she will really miss, because of the shared joy of the experience.

She said she specifically chose to retire in July, so that her replacement will be able to run for office in the November general election.

"If I retire before the end of July, then the county commissioners need to appoint a judge till the end of December," Orzech said. "There will be an election this year for a judge.I have two and a half years left in my term, and I don't think the people of Missoula County would like to have someone sitting as a judge for two and a half years that's been appointed. I think this gives the voters a clear message, 'vote for your judge in November, this year'."

Orzech closed the interview by thanking the people she has served for nearly two decades behind the bench.

"It has been such an honor to do this job," she said. "I have enjoyed it so much. I believe that my actions have made a difference in other people's lives, and I have such good will to all the people who have supported me, but it's time for Judge K.O. to do something a little different."


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