By Michael Howell
Ravalli County District Court Judge Jeffrey Langton heard testimony for most of the day on Friday, September 23, in the case filed by Justices of the Peace Jim Bailey and Robin Clute seeking to halt the county’s plan to cut a clerk/receptionist position in each of their courts. Langton already granted a preliminary injunction preventing the layoffs, stating that the positions appear to be necessary for the operation of the courts.
On Friday, County Commissioners Matt Kanenwisher and Greg Chilcott defended the county’s decision to lay off the clerks. Chilcott testified that the county’s budgeting process had not changed from previous years. He said three years ago the commissioners’ made operational cuts of about eleven and a half percent in every department. Now, he said, with the county facing continued budget restraints there was no place left to cut but in labor.
Kanenwisher also defended the budgeting process with graphs and statistics, arguing that some other counties are handling more cases with less staff than Ravalli County Justices of the Peace. He stated that in his mind the cuts were reasonable and that the work could be absorbed by the other court clerks and the hardship possibly ameliorated by sharing some duties between the courts. He said the court’s workload had been on a downward trend for years.
Former County Attorney George Corn, who is handling the case for the Justices, concentrated on evidence that the Justice department was not consulted during the budgeting process and was kept in the dark about potential staff cuts until the last moment. His case rests essentially on the law requiring the commissioners to fund the court sufficiently to accomplish its judicial obligations. Both Justices Bailey and Clute insist that the elimination of the clerk/receptionist positions in each of their courts will cripple them and render them unable to function effectively.
Langton took the arguments under advisement and may issue a ruling this week.