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Remembering Judge Thomas McKittrick

mckittrick pic.jpg
Posted at 6:18 PM, Nov 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-23 01:28:35-05

GREAT FALLS — The Cascade County legal community is mourning the loss of retired District Judge Thomas McKittrick who died recently at the age of 79. McKittrick served on the bench for nearly 30 years.

“He was a good judge. I thought he was very fair,” said Julie Scanlon, who served as Judicial Administrative Assistant to Judge McKittrick for 10 years.

She remembers him as firm but fair, and always full of stories which he often told while sitting across from her outside his chambers.

“He was an attorney back East. And so he had a lot of stories about certain people, types of people that he represented as defense counsel back east. A lot of stories about them, and stories from his childhood growing up in Anaconda,” said Scanlon.

Julie Scanlon
Julie Scanlon

McKittrick attended Carroll College in Helena and Gonzaga University of Law. His first job after law school was as a copyright examiner for the Library o Congress in Washington, D.C. He then served as Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for the Commonwealth of Virginia, followed by a stint in private practice in Arlington, Virginia.

He returned to Montana in 1978 and served as Chief Deputy County Attorney for Cascade County. In 1983, then Governor Ted Schwinden appointed him to the bench. He was re-elected five times.

Judge McKittrick held a number of appointed and elected positions, including being elected past President of the Montana Judges Association. He also founded the Adult Drug Treatment Program in Cascade County.

McKittrick presided over some high-profile cases during his time on the bench, including a triple homicide in which a prominent Great Falls doctor and his wife and daughter were killed; the murder trial of Alan Reavley, and the murder trial of Wilfred Morrissey.

“So we had Court TV here and Dateline. Those were big cases,” said Scanlon. “He took a lot of time preparing on those cases for verdicts. It was very difficult when you have families sitting in the courtroom.”

McKittrick's tenure also included the death penalty case of Duncan Peder McKenzie, who in 1995 became the first person executed in Montana since 1943.

McKittrick also received a number of awards during his time on the bench including the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year from the Great Falls Optimist Club in 2005 and the Judge of the Year from CASA of Montana in 2007.

Thomas McKittrick
Thomas McKittrick

“He wanted to give people a chance at rehabilitation, but he also believed that there should be some kind of punishment for some crimes or that people needed to have an opportunity to get treatment and to better themselves,” said Scanlon.

Scanlon says McKittrick was an excellent example of professionalism when interpreting the law.

“In the courtroom. I thought he was prepared, I thought he was firm,” said Scanlon. “But he did give people an opportunity to tell their side of the story. He was he was pretty firm as far as sentencing, probably one of the firmest judges as far as sentencing.”

Scanlon says it wasn’t uncommon for the people he sent to prison to later show appreciation.

“There was one person who had been put in prison, I believe for an attempted homicide. And when he got out of prison, he came up and actually spoke to the judge several times, was very pleasant, said it kind of turned his life around,” said Scanlon. “In his role as the treatment court judge they did that. We still have people that do come up who remember him.

When he announced his retirement in 2012, McKittrick told MTN a number of people he put behind bars considered him a friend.

“I think they recognized that even though I did perhaps have to incarcerate them, that I was trying to help them in the process,” said McKittrick in the January 2012 interview. “They I've had people come to me afterwards and tell me that my words, although maybe very stern, sunk in and they were doing quite well.”

Scanlon says the law was in the McKittrick DNA. Judge McKittrick had two brothers who were also attorneys and his son, Matthew one of two children, is also a lawyer. McKittrick and his wife, Lisa, also have a daughter, Marissa, who is a pharmacist.

“He was a wonderful person,” said Scanlon.