Retired Montana State District Court judge Joel George Roth, 92, died after a brief illness on August 29 at Benefis East Hospital in Great Falls.
Joel was born in Laurel, Montana on June 6, 1929, the son of the late George and Amalia (Molly) Roth. He was married to the late Annemarie (Anne) Beatty Roth, who died in 1961. Survivors include his son, Dr. Stephen Roth, Steve’s wife, Andrea Fish, and their two daughters Amalia and Julianna Roth, all of Palo Alto, California. He is also survived by his loving companion of 26 years, Ramona Rognaldson, and his sister-in-law, Norma Ashby Smith, both of Great Falls.
Joel was born and spent his formative years in Laurel, Montana, and graduated from Laurel High School in 1947. During high school, he actively participated in Locomotive team sports, boys chorus, band, and plays. He was an enthusiastic fan of Locomotive sports teams throughout his life, and only hours before he passed away, he was inquiring about the outcome of Laurel’s most recent football game. In 1951 he received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting) from the University of Montana (U of M). While an undergraduate, he served as the treasurer of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house and assistant manager of the Grizzly track team. Immediately after graduating from the U of M, Joel enlisted in the United States Army. Upon completion of his training, he was assigned to the Finance Corp and stationed at 7th Army Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany for most of his two-year enlistment.
Following his discharge from the Army, Joel returned to Montana and worked as state income tax auditor, a position that allowed him to travel widely throughout Montana. While on an assignment in Billings, he became reacquainted with Anne, whom he had met earlier at the U of M. He was soon smitten, and after 12 dates, he proposed and they were married in Helena in 1955.
Recognizing that a career crunching numbers from income tax returns was not his passion, Joel enrolled in the U of M Law School, from which he graduated with a law degree in 1957. After graduation, he and Anne moved to Great Falls where he worked as an associate at Church Harris Johnson & Williams. In 1959, he then joined the practice of Howard Burton, where he focused on labor law.
In 1961 Anne was diagnosed with cancer, and tragically, she died that same year. Joel left the Burton law office in 1962 and started his own solo law practice in Great Falls in addition to working as a Deputy Cascade County Attorney. Since attracting new clients was difficult, in 1963 he accepted a position as a staff attorney with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission in the Seattle Regional Office. After nine years living in Seattle and investigating securities fraud cases throughout the Northwest, he felt the pull of Montana, so he returned to Great Falls in 1971.
Soon after returning, Joel served temporarily as a Cascade County Justice of the Peace. He found the work enjoyable, so he ran for and was elected to the position in 1974. In 1976 he was elected as a judge to the Montana State District Court. He ran a successful door-to-door campaign in which his hand-painted yard signs included the slogan “Firm but Fair.” He was re-elected in both 1982 and 1988, ultimately serving on the bench 18 years before retiring in December 1995 at age 65.
During his retirement, Joel traveled extensively around the world, often as a member of the Friendship Force. He fulfilled a long-held dream of visiting the islands of the Western Pacific and South Seas; his family was amused to imagine this “country boy from Montana” tanning on the beaches of Fiji and Tahiti. He also loved playing tennis in the summers, and hiking in Glacier Park and the Hawaiian Islands with his son.
Joel was a member of the Cascade County Bar Association, State Bar of Montana, and Montana Judges Association. Always an avid reader, he spent part of most days reading or eventually listening to talking books, especially biographies. In addition, he delighted in collecting and telling jokes, and most conversations with him included Joel asking, “did you hear the one about…?” He loved following and discussing sports at all levels, and he was regarded as a kind, outgoing, funny, and dedicated friend and companion to many. The joy of his life was following the academic achievements and medical career of his son, and more recently, the similar academic and athletic successes of his two granddaughters. His family and friends will truly miss him.
Interment of this ashes as well as a celebration of his life for family and close friends will be private at his request and scheduled in the future. Arrangements have been entrusted to the care of Croxford and Sons Funeral Home in Great Falls. Joel wished that memorials be directed to the Disabled American Veterans, Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, or Great Falls Public Library.
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