Right now we’ve got two candidates running for Justice of the Peace in Missoula, Marie Andersen and Matthew Lowy. We also have large-scale corruption in that same court.
Let’s get right into it.
Marie Anderson’s Wrongful Termination Case
The termination case revolves around Marie Anderson being 'fired' in 2012. Well, technically her contract wasn’t renewed by Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks.
Remember, the position in question was an appointed position to begin with, and one that was just part-time and as an assistant municipal court judge. Judge Donald Louden was the one to first appoint her, but his time kind of came to an end when he retired in 2011 mid-term. And like happens in many courtrooms across the country, a lot of his support staff probably went as well.
So why did “Let-‘em-Loose” Louden retire…and retire earlier than he’d expected?
According to former municipal court managers that spoke on Missoula’s KGVO News Talk today, Louden retired early after a meeting with Mayor Engen. Louden was called to the mayor’s office, and what was discussed isn’t known, but he came back to the court with tears in his eyes and said he had to quit. He was gone three weeks later, and eventually moved out of state.
What happened? It’s hard to say, and chances are good no one will ever know besides Louden and Engen, but I have a feeling the mayor pressured Louden to up the amount of money he was fining people while also doing away with the ‘slaps on the wrist’ he was known for. Why do that? John Engen needed more money for his pet projects – tax dollars just wouldn’t cut it anymore.
Commerce vs. Justice
The more Mayor Engen can nickel and dime you, the easier it is for him to run amok, while also breaking down that wall we call the separation of powers.
Yeah, just like at the federal level, the city too has three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. The mayor’s already got the City Council under his thumb, and he’s packed the court with his cronies. Is it any wonder things are so unbalanced?
Judges and Politics
Being kicked out of the court after her former boss retired didn’t befall Andersen, but she was eventually let-go. She was actually appointed to her part-time position at that point – a bit of a demotion, if you will – and that happened on December 2, 2011, and it was to be for a term of one-year.
Over the course of that year the court judgment against Andersen shows that she repeatedly failed to use the new computer tracking system the court was using in an attempt to streamline the judicial process. What’s more, the judgment claims Andersen pretty much stood in the way when other workers tried to ask her questions or figure out what was going on.
I’ll tell you – if you want some good bathroom reading, print out this 35-page PDF…it’s full of drama! Like this charge that Andersen “would periodically park illegally – even though she had her own reserved parking space near City Hall – then ask her clerk to ‘take care of’ her parking tickets.” (p 3)
What’s more, it’s charged that Andersen demanded her parking tickets be paid or waived even when she wasn’t a judge anymore.
I want to add that this lawsuit is a bit wishy-washy as well. I mean, isn’t it the city lawyers arguing it in front of the city judges? We know how Engen strives to get everyone in his pocket. So maybe you want to take it with a grain of salt.
Another charge has Andersen asking an attorney to let his client wait while he takes over running the jail court for Andersen. Now, you have to be certified to be a substitute judge, but Andersen didn’t think that’d be a problem. I don’t know, I see some pretty weird judgments come out of jail court sometimes, so maybe we need qualified people there. (p 4)
All of those reasons and a few more were given as the reason Judge Jenks chose not to renew Marie Andersen’s appointment on October 11, 2012.
Now, Andersen claims that the reason she was dismissed was because an editorial criticizing Judge Jenks and the Co-Occuring Court (I have no idea what that is), mainly over the court’s inability to help mentally ill folks.
After that a bit of a scuffle or cat fight or whatever broke out between the two women. Andersen claims she was fired, Jenks claims she was still going to be paid until her term ended on December 2, 2012. I’m not sure if Jenks wanted Andersen to come back – I doubt it – but the truth is Andersen was needed, and didn’t come back. She did accept the pay, but instead of filing a grievance or anything, she filed a lawsuit.
That lawsuit made its way through the courts for nearly two years until yesterday, October 27, when the judgment came due. The ruling says that “Andersen does not have sufficient evidence to support any of her claims and even if she did, they would be barred by judicial immunity and the statute of limitations.”
One of the main claims by Andersen, that her constitutional rights of due process were violated, was ruled unjustified in that “she had no written guarantee her employment would continue beyond the expiration of her one-year term and without that, she had no property interest which would entitle her to due process.” (p 8)
Andersen alleged the city defamed her, but that was ruled not to be the case as well. Now, to defame someone the words you use have to be not just unpleasant or annoying – like those I throw about on this site, I hope – and more along the lines of injurious or slanderous, which the words in question were not.
So what is in question? It seems it’s both an October 18 and December 4 Missoulian article that pulled out things like “worked very hard” and “certain circumstances require that.” (p 13)
Seems like lawyer talk to me, and that’s about what this case comes down to. It’s another judge race, and I’m not too fond of those after this wild judge year in Montana, but it just goes to show that things in Missoula are screwed up.
But will that get rid of the fundamental problem, this level of corruption now in the court? I mean, if the sole intention of the municipal court is just to get as much money from citizens as you can, regardless of how guilty they may be, then I ask you, is that justice?
- When you have surcharges on each ticket, and even if that citizen somehow convinces the judge they’re innocent and they don’t have to pay, why then are they still forced to pay a $20 surcharge or whatever it is? Is that justice?
- When the mayor of the city tells the court judges what to do and the city council turns the other way, is that justice?
- When the walls that separate our branches of government are torn down and one man rules in their place, is that justice?
Think about that when you vote next Tuesday.