Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) As the city and county of Missoula look to move to the Engen Building and centralize most public services, the city will also look to centralize its courts at the County Courthouse and divide the duties of the City Attorney’s Office.

Missoula Mayor Andrea Davis on Wednesday detailed her plans to reorganize the City Attorney’s Office after appointing Ryan Sudbury as City Attorney for Civil Services and Keithi Worthington as City Attorney for Prosecution.

“This recognizes that in a modern city attorney’s office, there are too many substantive areas of law for one person to be an expert in both civil and criminal matters,” Davis said. “Separating them allows for more efficient and effective decision making focused on the needs of each department.”

Worthington, who graduated from the University of Montana School of Law, worked in private practice until 2006, when she began working with the city. In 2016, she was appointed Chief Prosecuting Attorney and will now serve as the City Attorney for Prosecution.

The position will oversee all prosecution services including DUI, criminal and misdemeanor crimes while also supporting the city’s crime victim services. The job will also advise the city on matters concerning criminal law and serve as a member of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.

“This elevates the position of the Chief Prosecuting City Attorney to the senior leadership position and increases the diversity of background and professional experience on the senior leadership team,” Davis said of the change. “It allows more direct lines of communication between the City Council, the mayor’s office and the Chief Prosecuting City Attorney.”

Sudbury, who was named City Attorney after the retirement of former City Attorney Jim Nugent, will now serve as City Attorney for Civil Services. Sudbury began working for the city in 2016, primarily on matters relating to public works, land use and development.

As the head of civil services, Sudbury will oversee litigation and ensure the city complies with state, local and federal laws. The duties also advise on proposed ordinance changes and on legal risk and strategies.

“These are big jobs,” said council member Gwen Jones. “As our city grows, it makes a lot of sense to start dividing and specializing.”

Davis said a similar approach has been taken with positive outcomes in other city departments. Among them, the city engineers now specialize in their own area of expertise including one for utilities, one for surface transportation and one for development.

Doing so, Davis said, enables the city’s professionals to provide necessary oversight in specific areas.

“We expect that reorganizing the City Attorney’s Office into the distinct functions of prosecution and civil services will achieve the same results and allow each office to tailor their processes to better suit the specific needs of each office,” Davis said.

The change comes as the city and county prepare to co-locate into the downtown federal building, now known as the Engen Building. The plan has been years in the making and is expected to save both governments money down the road while offering “one-stop” service for the public.

In a similar approach, the city is looking to co-locate its courts into the County Courthouse alongside Justice Court, District Court and the Clerk of District Court.

“We are contemplating and working with the county to see if it’s possible to move our prosecution office and municipal court services to the County Courthouse,” Davis said. “For the public, that seemingly makes more sense. All court services would then be located in one location. This will better serve the citizens of Missoula.”

Davis said the financial impacts of a split City Attorney’s Office doesn’t require a budget amendment and doesn’t create a new FTE. However, the reorganization does carry an estimated annual cost increase of around $51,000, mainly to cover the salary increase suitable for department heads.

The proposal passed the City Council on a 10-0 vote during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

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Gallery Credit: Will Gordon

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