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 Rules of Practice - Updated Jan. 2020  The Rules of Practice, Forms and Orders for the Montana Fourth Judicial District Court for Missoula and Mineral Counties.

Department 1

Hon. Leslie Halligan

 Picture of Honorable Leslie Halligan

Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Hon. Leslie Halligan as a new interim judge to the Fourth Judicial District Court to replace Judge Ed McLean, who retired on April 30.

Halligan serves as the new judge that will preside over cases in Missoula and Mineral counties.

Since 2012, Halligan has been one of the standing masters of district court, presiding over cases referred to her by McLean and district court judge Karen Townsend that related to domestic relations, family law and parenting plans, as well as some of those involving intervention in neglect and abuse of children.

Department 2

Hon. Robert L. Deschamps, III



BA, University of Montana, 1966; JD, University of Montana, 1970.

Appointed District Judge in Montana 4th Judicial District Department 2 in July 2006; elected to consecutive six year terms, 2006, 2012.

Deputy Missoula County Attorney 1970

Missoula County Attorney, 1971-1998. (elected to seven consecutive four year terms)

Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of Montana, 1982-1998.

Chief Prosecutor, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 1999-2006.

Special Prosecutor for 18 Montana jurisdictions, 1999-2006.

Part-time private general practice of law, 1970-1976; 1999-2006

Professional organization offices held:

President of the National District Attorneys Association for 1994-1995. (Board

member, 1982-2006)

President of the Montana County Attorneys Association for 1974-1975

President of the Western Montana Bar Association for 1979-1980.

Chair, Montana Supreme Court Commission on Rules of Criminal Procedure,  1980-1992

Montana Bar Association, Montana liaison to the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, 1988-1994

American Bar Association, council member for the Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division, 1986-1994

 Trustee, of the National College of District Attorneys, 1994-1998

Chairman , board of directors, American Prosecutors’ Research Institute, 1995-1996. (Board member, 1993-1998)

District attorney representative on the national Executive Working Group, comprised of the Attorney General of the United States, four district attorneys and four state attorneys general. 1993-1997

Member, Montana Supreme Court District Court Council, 2010 to present.

Civic and Community activities:

Service on a variety of state and local committees and boards, including a term on the Montana Board of Crime Control, the Montana Criminal Justice Standards and Goals Advisory Council, the Montana Law Enforcement Academy, the Missoula City-County Gambling Commission, and various federal, state, local and tribal working committees.  

Family info:

Married September 18, 1965 to wife Rebecca (Becky) H. Deschamps. (B.S.; R.Ph.) and together have four adult children:  Krystin, Mikal; Robert IV, Jean-Marc and 11 grandchildren: six boys and five girls. 


Department 3

Hon. John W. Larson







District Judge John W. Larson has served the Montana state trial bench since 1993.  In 1996 he established Montana’s first drug treatment court.  This Court has served as a model for other similar courts around the country.   

 Judge Larson has been an active member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ), serving two terms on its National Board of Trustees.  He has also served as President of the Montana Judge’s Association.  Judge Larson has served on the Board of Directors of the Montana Legal Services since 2000.

Judge Larson received national recognition for Judge of the Year for the National Court Appoint Special Advocate (CASA) Program. On June 2, 2003, Judge Larson shared the Harold E. Hughes Exceptional Service Award with Judge Glade F. Roper of Tulare County, California, as an exceptional rural professional from the National Rural Institute on Alcohol and Drug Abuse.   He has taught courses to Judges, treatment providers, social workers, and probation officers from around the country. In October 2006, the Montana Board of Crime Control recognized Judge Larson’s vision and leadership in Juvenile Justice.  In January 2009, he received the groundbreaker award from the Missoula Habitat for Humanity Program based on his efforts to involve youth in Habitat’s construction projects. In September 2011, he received the Karla M. Gray Equal Justice Award from the Montana Bar Association.  He shared the award with Judge Kurt Krueger of Butte. 


Department 4

Hon. Jason Marks






Gov. Steven Bullock appointed Hon. Jason Marks as interim judge to the Fourth Judicial District, Department 4, to replace Judge Karen S. Townsend who retired Aug. 2019. 

Department 5

Hon. Shane A Vannatta

Picture of Judge Shane Vannatta 


 On February 5, 2019, Governor Steve Bullock appointed the Hon. Shane A. Vannatta as district court judge to the newly-created Department 5 of the Fourth Judicial District. Judge Vannatta took the oath of office on February 22, 2019, and was unanimously confirmed by the Montana State Senate on March 8, 2019. Judge Vannatta will stand for election to his position in 2020.

Prior to assuming the bench, Judge Vannatta practiced law for 25+ years with the law firm of Worden Thane P.C. His legal practice focused principally in business law, and included advice for copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, employment, business acquisitions, real property, and contract drafting. He maintained both a transactional and litigation practice.

Judge Vannatta graduated in 1993 from The University of Montana Law School (J.D. with Honors). He served as President of the State Bar of Montana (September 2011-2012), and currently serves as the ABA Delegate from the State Bar of Montana, and on various ABA committees and commissions.

As a private practitioner, Judge Vannatta was recognized on numerous peer-reviewed lists, including Mountain States Super Lawyers®, Best Lawyers in America®, and Martindale-Hubbell. He was recognized in 2019 & 2016 as “Lawyer of the Year” for work in Corporate Law in Missoula, MT, and in 2014 as “Lawyer of the Year” for work in Litigation - Labor & Employment in Missoula, MT.

Standing Master

Brenda Desmond

Brenda Desmond


Brenda C. Desmond has been a District Court Standing Master for twenty years.  She received her law degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and her undergraduate degree in philosophy from Leuven University in Belgium.

 Her experience prior to becoming a standing master includes: teaching at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law for nine years in the areas of Indian Law, legislation, appellate practice and legal writing; working for the Montana state legislature drafting bills, working on Montana code revision and serving as staff attorney for the House Judiciary Committee and several interim committees.  She has also served as a staff attorney for Alaska Legal Services and Montana Legal Services and as a legal advisor to the Crow Tribal Court.  She has been an appellate justice for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Court of Appeals and for the Fort Peck Tribal Court of Appeals.

As a standing master, under the authority of Mont. Code Ann.§§3-5-122 et. seq., Desmond conducts preliminary matters in adult criminal cases, including arraignments, setting bond and conditions of release.  She also conducts preliminary matters in juvenile delinquency proceedings, including detention and release hearings.  In civil matters, on referral from District Court Judges or by stipulation of the parties, she conducts hearings, including final hearings, in dissolution of marriage and parenting cases, mental health commitment proceedings, guardianship proceedings and discovery disputes.  She acts as a mediator in the initial stage of child protection cases and serves as pro bono settlement master or mediator in approximately ten cases per year. She presides over the weekly sessions of the Missoula Co-Occurring Treatment Court, and its Veterans Treatment Track. Participants in both court programs have been charged with a crime and have mental health and substance abuse challenges that factored into the commission of the charged crime.  The Missoula court is patterned after similar courts around the country that promote community safety by providing long-term community-based treatment services along with monitoring and supervision.


Standing Master

Amy Rubin

Amy Rubin 2


Amy Rubin was recently appointed Standing Master for the 4th Judicial District Court.  She will work primarily with family law cases, for Judge Townsend and Judge Halligan.  Prior to this appointment, Amy was a partner in a private law firm, and worked with non-profit agencies providing legal representation under Violence Against Women Act grants through the US Department of Justice.  She has received the Crime Victim Advocate of the Year award, as well as the Missoula Family Violence Council Pro Bono Attorney of the Year award.  Amy received her undergraduate degree from Colorado College and is a 1989 graduate of the University of Montana School of Law.   In her spare time she enjoys horses, and playing ice hockey with her family. She is active in a number of community organizations.