General information about the Court

The Montana Workers' Compensation Court provides a fair, efficient, and effective forum for the resolution of disputes arising under the Montana Workers' Compensation Act and the Occupational Disease Act.

History of the Court      [Return to top]

The Forty-Fourth Legislative Assembly created the Office of the Workers' Compensation Court on July 1, 1975, to provide an efficient and effective forum for resolving disputes arising under the Workers' Compensation Act (WCA), § 39-71-101, MCA, et seq., and the Occupational Disease Act (ODA), § 39-72-101, MCA, et seq. Subsequent Legislatures have increased the Court's jurisdiction to include disputes involving independent contractor exemptions and appeals of DLI's orders on workers' compensation and occupational disease issues. 


Jurisdiction          [Return to top]

Except for specified regulatory matters, the Court has original jurisdiction over issues arising under the WCA and under the ODA. The Court's jurisdiction also extends to disputes involving independent contractor exemptions under the WCA, penalties for failure to maintain workers' compensation coverage, civil penalties for theft of workers' compensation benefits, and the two-year return to work preference. Trials are conducted statewide in six Montana cities. The Court is bound by common law and statutory rules of evidence, including the Montana Rules of Evidence.  In workers' compensation regulatory matters over which the DLI has original jurisdiction, the Court acts as an appellate court, conducting judicial review. The Court’s rules are in the Administrative Rules of Montana at 24.5.301, et seq.


Workers' Compensation Judge          [Return to top]

The Montana Workers' Compensation Judge serves a six-year term and is appointed by the Governor from a list of nominees submitted by the Judicial Nomination Commission. The Workers' Compensation Judge must have the same qualifications necessary to hold the office of district court judge. Statute grants the judge all of the privileges and other emoluments afforded a district judge.


Hon. Thomas ("Lee") Bruner.

Thomas (“Lee”) Bruner was appointed as Workers’ Compensation Court Judge by Governor Greg Gianforte on September 1, 2023.  Judge Bruner’s effective start date was Friday, September 8, 2023. 

The Hon. Lee Bruner was raised in Butte and currently resides in Butte with a ranch in Whitehall.  Judge Bruner graduated from Butte Central High School, received his B.S. in physics at Montana State University, and received his Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Montana School of Law in Missoula in 1995. 

Judge Bruner received an Honorable Discharge from active duty in the United States Air Force, serving from 1986-1990, and was assigned Inactive Status from 1990-1994.

Most of Judge Bruner’s career as a practicing attorney was spent handling medical negligence cases, and a smaller percentage of his practice included employment law, torts, environmental law, and complicated high value litigation matters.  He practiced law at two prominent law firms as well as being appointed as Deputy Clerk by the Clerk of Court of the Montana Supreme Court for a five-year term.

Judge Bruner has been a member of the State Bar of Montana and the Federal District Court since 1995, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court since 2008.

Judge Bruner was appointed by Governor Racicot to the Montana Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board, and appointed by Governor Gianforte to the Water Pollution Control Advisory Council and Board of Environmental Review.  Judge Bruner has taught environmental law at Montana Tech.

Judge Bruner’s list of community and public service include:  Past member of the Board of Directors for Legion Oasis in Butte, a non-profit that operates low income housing property; Partners United for Lifesaving Education, a non-profit that runs 911 emergency response, training, and home health services in Jefferson County; Montana Wool Growers Association, representing that non-profit organization’s interests to the Washington, DC congressional delegation and various federal agencies; Friends of the Butte-Silver Bow Veterans Treatment Court, a non-profit that assists veterans struggling with addiction issues; and the American Legion, Post 1, Butte-Silver Bow.

Judge Bruner owns and runs a multigenerational farming and ranching operation south of Whitehall.  He and his wife Pollann have raised three boys, Robert, Michael, and John, who are active on the family farm and ranch.



Court Personnel           [Return to top]

The Court consists of the judge, law clerks who also function as mediators, a clerk of court and a deputy clerk of court who also serve as pretrial hearing examiners, a receptionist/deputy clerk of court, and a court reporter.

Judge - Hon. Thomas Leroy ("Lee") Bruner

Clerk of Court/ Pretrial Hearing Examiner - Jackie Poole

Deputy Clerk of Court/ Pretrial Hearing Examiner -Denise A. Hartman

Deputy Clerk - Michele Cottrill

Law Clerk - Wendy Cash


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Contacting the Court         

Please address all general inquiries to the Workers' Compensation Court.


1625 11th Ave.
Helena, Montana 


P.O. Box 537
Helena, MT 59624-0537


(406) 444-7794


(406) 444-7798


Trial Dates and Deadlines              [Return to top]

The Court has statewide jurisdiction and holds regular trial terms in six Montana cities – Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Week long trial terms are held in each city four times a year. In the past, the Court has also held trials in Red Lodge, Big Fork, Miles City, Malta, Columbus, Bozeman, and Sidney.

Annually, the Court publishes a scheduling calendar setting forth the deadlines for the filing of petitions for each venue, the dates of pretrial conferences, and the weeks of trial. The Court calendar including filing deadlines can be found at http://

Court Goals and Accomplishments          [Return to top]

The overall objective of the Court is to provide prompt, courteous, and consistent treatment of all those who appear before the Court and to issue prompt, concise, accurate, consistent, understandable, well reasoned and researched decisions, thereby increasing predictability and decreasing the need for litigation.


- Goal #1: Improve and Revise the Court’s Rules.

Objective: Continue to annually review the Workers’ Compensation Court Rules to ensure they remain clear and easy to decipher for unrepresented parties as well as the practicing bar.  Update the rules to reflect modern methods of communication and filing, i.e., electronic filings.

- Goal #2: Continue flexible policy of conducting conferences, hearings, and trying cases when and where the parties wish.

Objective:  The Court will continue to be flexible when scheduling trials. The Workers’ Compensation Court has statewide jurisdiction and holds regular trial terms in six Montana cities: Billings, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Week-long trial terms are held in each city four times a year. In the past, the Court has also held trials in Red Lodge, Big Fork, Miles City, Malta, Columbus, Bozeman, Sidney, Plains, and Hardin.  The Court allows flexibility in the method of holding conferences, hearings,  and trials and will conduct them via video conference upon agreement of all parties.

- Goal #3: Maintain the average time between submission and decision to within 90 days.

Objective:  Issue timely rulings.

  1. The Court utilizes law clerks who conduct legal research and assist with drafting and finalizing decisions and substantive interim orders. The Court maintains an in-house submitted list which prioritizes cases by date of trial or submission of motions and is reviewed weekly by the law clerks and Judge.
  2. The Court encourages parties practicing before the Court to have all motions fully briefed and depositions filed on their due date so that the matter can be finally submitted at the conclusion of the trial. The Court has implemented procedures which facilitate rulings on motions to assist matters proceeding to trial in a timely manner.  The clerk of court and deputy clerk I also act as pretrial hearing examiners. The pretrial hearing examiners facilitate the pretrial process to ensure the matter will be submitted at the conclusion of the trial.
  3. The Court endeavors to issue bench rulings whenever possible, thus expediting decisions.

- Goal #4: Continue to post final, published decisions on the Court’s website and upgrade its website for legal research purposes.
Objective: The Court will continue to post its published decisions and any substantive orders on its website.  The Court is in the process of refining its website to include an in-depth search engine for legal research purposes by partnering with information technology personnel.

- Goal #5: Continue to maintain the Workers’ Compensation Court website.
Objective: The Court will continue to maintain its extensive website.  The website contains helpful information for parties practicing before the Court. The court clerks are proficient in uploading information on the website to ensure current data and information for its users. Court decisions are published on the website dating back from 1993 to the present. Links to Montana Supreme Court decisions and other state agencies are also provided on the website. Court personnel are readily accessible through e-mail address links located on the website. The website contains the Court’s calendar, which is continually updated. The website also contains the Court rules, legal forms, general information, and helpful hints.

- Goal #6: Continue to support easy accessibility by pro sé (unrepresented) parties.
Objective: The Workers’ Compensation system is intended to be primarily self-administering. In furtherance of this goal, the Court is designed to make navigating through the system as easy as possible for pro sé (unrepresented) parties. One of the ways this goal is accomplished is by keeping the Court’s extensive website updated. Additionally, the Court provides helpful assistance with any procedural question a pro sé party may have. Along with the Court’s rules, the website contains forms and an informational brochure specifically geared toward pro sé parties. Hard copies of these materials are also available upon request.

- Goal #7: Continue to maintain wireless internet access.
Objective: The Court purchased and will continue to maintain wireless internet service to enable parties access to the internet on their personal laptop computers for legal research during trials, oral arguments, and conferences.

- Goal #8: Continue to allow electronic filing of pleadings.
Objective:  The Court will continue to allow for the electronic filing of documents to assist parties in timely filing their documents.

- Goal #9: Continue the Court’s relationship with the Alexander Blewett II School of Law.
Objective: In an effort to continue its historical relationship with the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana, and its professors and new lawyers entering the practice of law in Montana, the Court is working to hold cases scheduled on the Missoula trial docket at the law school.


Settlement Conference/Mediation Services    [Return to top]

The Workers’ Compensation Court offers settlement conference/mediation services on a case-by-case basis. The Court’s law clerks conduct settlement conferences in Billings, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. For more information please contact the Court.

Representing Yourself in Court       [Return to top]    

The Court has published an informational brochure for anyone representing themself before the Court. It can be accessed at       


The Court utilizes PDF and HTML format which can be read by common screen-reading programs.

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