Chief Counsel 

For more than 30 years, City Attorney Jim Nugent has helped shape Missoula—and the state. (He'd prefer that you didn't make a fuss about it.)

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"You weren't able to be a teacher. You weren't able to get a federal government job," Nugent says. "It just wasn't appropriate."

Nugent didn't think the punishment fit the crime and, after brainstorming with then Police Chief Sabe Psau, helped craft what became the first public urination ordinance in the state.

Another precedent-setting, Nugent-shaped ordinance came at the request of University District homeowners in the mid-'80s. Authored by Nugent and Missoula Parking Commission staffers, and passed by the Missoula City Council, the new law forbade students who lived in other areas from parking around campus.

As one might expect, UM students weren't happy about the ordinance. The Associated Students of the University of Montana (ASUM) filed a lawsuit in 1992 to stop the creation of a residential parking district. The case landed in the Montana Supreme Court, where ASUM asserted the ordinance privatized public streets and created a special class of people. The students argued the law should be deemed unconstitutional.

"(Missoula) cannot discriminate between residents and non-residents—especially where Montana's public streets are involved," read ASUM's brief. "Non-residents are treated as second class citizens."

The Montana Supreme Court sided with the city, and the decision reverberated throughout the state. Before long, homeowners around the Capitol in Helena wanted their own residential parking district.

"The people here around the Capitol, they see what happened in Missoula and they wanted a similar thing," Hansen says. "All of these things kind of work together."

But it takes someone with Nugent's vast knowledge to help kick-start the process.

"Jim is, a, familiar with all of [the precedent-setting lawsuits] and b, has been involved with many of them. That definitely gives him a leg up," says former Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas. "I don't think there's a better city attorney in the state."


Nugent grew up across from Missoula's Little McCormick Park in a white, two-story house with a wraparound porch on the corner of Alder and May. He learned about the law early on, watching his father, James Nugent Sr., work as a representative for two terms in the Montana Legislature and on the Missoula City Council.

James Nugent Sr. was a World War II pilot and a plumber by trade. Nugent's mom, Theresa, waited tables before she married Jim Nugent Sr. She later stayed at home with the kids, keeping an eye on all five children while they played in the nearby park.

Little McCormick Park actually catalyzed Jim Nugent Sr.'s involvement with city government. At the time, before construction of Interstate 90, Broadway was the Garden City's primary east-west thoroughfare. Little McCormick Park, just a couple of blocks away, offered travelers a shady and cool spot. But Nugent Sr. didn't like the fact that the park didn't have any benches or picnic tables. He felt the city wasn't being a good host, and it prompted him to lobby Missoula's Board of Parks and Recreation to install tables. Then he did one better—rather than simply lobby, he filled the board's vacant seat. In 1963, he moved up the local ranks and was elected to the Missoula City Council, serving there until 1969.

click to enlarge Janice and Jim Nugent met 40 years ago while attending classes at the University of Montana. “We really had an optimistic feeling for what we could do and how we could make the world better,” Janice Nugent says. “I think that’s part of who Jim is.” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Janice and Jim Nugent met 40 years ago while attending classes at the University of Montana. “We really had an optimistic feeling for what we could do and how we could make the world better,” Janice Nugent says. “I think that’s part of who Jim is.”

Nugent remembers family dinner table conversations full of tales about city politics. Where and how to build Missoula's City Hall was a controversial issue at the time, and constituents often showed up at the family's Westside home to bend his father's ear. Nugent soaked up his father's progressive ideas about what government should be, and those ideals linger today.

"Governments are, in my opinion, intended to assist and further the interests of the people, generally," Nugent says. "Now you don't please every single person, obviously. But as a community, as a consensus, or, as a majority, you tend to. And your governments can be a very valuable tool in not only providing protection like the police and fire or the streets and the roads, but even branching out into the urban renewal, the parks and the open space, and even the Currents facilities, and Splash! Montana. Those come from a community and a council, a majority of the council wanting to improve the quality of life. And I think local government, city government, can really assist in providing a better quality of life for the community."

Nugent found his budding social awareness bolstered by the Jesuit priests at Loyola High School in Missoula. His instructors drilled into him a strong sense of social justice that he hasn't forgotten.

"We're all human beings," he says. "There's no basis for discriminating against anyone, whether they're Native American, whether they're African American, female, male. In those days, there wasn't any focus on the gay-lesbian thing, but it would hold over today as well."

Nugent become the first member of his family to graduate from college, in 1971, with a bachelor's degree in finance. His father died earlier that year at age 47.

Around the same time, he started to spend an increasing amount of time with Janice Driscoll. The two met at a retreat hosted by Christ the King Church, and Janice recalls Jim had a full head of hair then, as well as bushy sideburns. He was also quick to crack a joke.

"He wasn't one bit shy," she recalls.

On Valentine's Day in 1971, Nugent presented Janice with a giant cutout cardboard heart, painted red with white and blue lettering: "Will you be my wife?"

She said yes.

Janice Nugent, now a speech therapist completing a doctorate in special education, has always acted as her husband's sounding board. Today, when he comes home late from Monday night City Council meetings, he likes to talk about the evening's events. She watches the meeting on television so she can keep up with what's going on.

The routine has been basically the same ever since the couple met, with a few exceptions. In the '70s, when the couple lived in a perennially chilly apartment on the corner of Rawlins and Addison, and Jim was attending law school, they'd often talk local politics. There was no public access television at the time, but there was a set of beaded curtains in the doorway—a mark of the era, Janice says, as was the couple's idealism.

"We really had an optimistic feeling for what we could do and how we could make the world better," Janice Nugent says. "I think that's part of who Jim is."

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