Judge Carolyn Ostby Looks Forward to A New Beginning

Nov 29, 2016

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby steps down after nearly 15 years. On the next to the last full-day before her retirement, her chambers were largely empty except for this vase of roses given to her by a friend. Ostby will move to recall status, meaning she can be called to hear federal cases, as needed.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Carolyn Ostby’s last day on the bench as a full-time U.S. Magistrate Judge is November 30, 2016. 

She retires after serving nearly 15 years. Her tenure concludes as Montana’s longest serving full-time magistrate judge and she’s the state’s first female federal judge.


Ostby says she’s fortunate that her life has had different, yet major changes, this includes law school, private practice, and the federal bench.

“And it seems like with each one there’s a sense of loss but a sense of beginning at the same time,” she says. “And so, I feel that same way now.”

She feels she’s been given an incredible trust, “And I’ve done the best job that I can in honoring that trust.”

Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Ostby says she'll miss her colleagues whom she describes as having so much dedication and integrity.

Still, she looks forward to this next transition in her life.

“I’ve decided to take the advice of so many people that have been through this before me that said, ‘just don’t make any commitments right away,” she says with a laugh. “That seemed to make so much sense.”

Although she admits her personality is to “dig in and get involved in something.”

For at least the immediate future, Ostby is looking forward to some free time away from legal briefs.

“Yep, heading for the hills,” she says with a laugh. “I have a season ski pass. I intend to use a lot, get my money’s worth out of that.”

She’s looking forward to being outside in the middle of the day for a while, “Just do things like that that I really haven’t been able to do since I was a kid.”

She also looks forward to visiting her children. Her son is an attorney in Bozeman and her daughter works in California.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby greeting one of the new American citizens at a Naturalization ceremony February 18, 2016.
Credit Jackie Yamanaka

Ostby grew up in Wolf Point, near her father’s family homestead. She graduated from Macalester College and the University of Montana School of Law with high honors. Ostby was Editor-in_chief of the Montana Law Review. She was a litigation partner in the Crowley Law Firm in Billings from 1981-2001. In 2002, she was appointed U.S. Magistrate for the District of Montana, first serving in Great Falls for 5 years before being relocated to Billings.

Ostby frequently travels overseas and some of those trips have dovetailed with her work on the U.S. Judicial Conference Committee on International Judicial Relations. She was appointed to the panel by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. Basically, the panel - when asked – helps promotes the rule of law around the world, with this caveat.

“We better be pretty careful about going around and purporting to tell other people how they have to conduct their business,” she says. “That’s not to say that we can’t share our thoughts about the importance of the rule of law and that’s what we’re doing. We’re not there to preach. We’re there to discuss how each of us in our own ways, through our own cultures, through our own laws can promote justice for people.”

Among the countries she’s visited:  Mexico, Jordan and Egypt. Ostby expects to remain active with this committee as well as for other legal organizations. She is a member of the American Law Institute, the American College of Trial Lawyers, and the American Bar Foundation.

Ostby will be on recall status, sitting for federal cases as needed.

Timothy Cavan was selected by a court-appointed merit selection panel to succeed Ostby, who declined to offer any words of advice.

“I would not purport to give him any advice. He is so experienced and he’ll have a great temperament for the job,” she says. “We’ve already had several meetings and I think the transition will be seamless.”

The investiture ceremony takes place December 1, 2016 for Cavan who most recently served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. It will take place in the Snowy Mountain Courtroom on the Fifth Floor of the James F. Battin U.S. Courthouse in Billings.

The District of Montana has three full-time magistrate judge positions, located in Missoula, Great Falls and Billings. Cavan will become the fourth magistrate judge to serve full-time in the Billings Division.