A native Montanan, Judge Mary Jane McCalla Knisely graduated from Texas Christian University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in psychology before attending law school at the University of Montana. After receiving her juris doctorate, she returned to Billings to clerk for the Hon. Russell K. Fillner, District Court Judge, Thirteenth Judicial District before becoming a prosecutor for the City of Billings.
Over the seven years she worked as a prosecutor, she worked on criminal cases, including domestic violence, drug cases and DUI’s. In 1997, she was elected as Billings Municipal Court Judge, a position in which she served for more than 12 years. She was elected to her fourth term in November, 2009.
In addition to presiding over the more than 30,000 cases adjudicated in the court annually, Judge Knisely served in an administrative position as Department Head and as a member of the City’s Executive Leadership Team. Working with the Municipal Court Administrator and staff, she was key in implementing National Trial Court Performance Standards to ensure efficiency in case processing and court operations. She served as Chair of the Montana Supreme Court Commission on Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, which identifies educational and training needs for municipal court judges and justices of the peace throughout Montana. She also served as a member of its curriculum subcommittee.
Judge Knisely is a member of the Montana Supreme Court Equal Justice Task Force and assisted in the facilitation of a comprehensive statewide legal needs study for low-income Montanans. She is also a member of the Self-Help Law Center Advisory Board, which works to ensure that all citizens have the legal information they need to represent themselves in court.
Instrumental in obtaining grant funding and public support for treatment courts, Judge Knisely presided in Billings Adult Misdemeanor Drug Court (BAMDC) from 2005 through 2010, and in Billings Adult Misdemeanor DUI Court (BAMDUI) and Billings Adult Mental Health Court (BAMHC) following their establishment in 2009. Based upon its success, BAMDC was named as a National Drug Court Institute Mentor Court in 2010.
In 2010, Judge Knisely was elected to the Yellowstone County Thirteenth District Court, and assumed the bench in January 2011. In addition to her regular judicial duties, she continues to preside in DUI/DWI Court, which allows entrance into the program by both misdemeanor and felony offenders. She continues to work with the judiciary, law enforcement and court clerks to educate about highway safety, and has testified before the State Law & Interim Justice Committee about strengthening Montana’s DUI laws.
Married since 1993 to Richard Knisely, Judge Knisely is the mother of two boys.