Early Wednesday morning, Missoula Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks announced her plans to step down from the bench and retire on December 31, the end of her term.

Judge Jenks spoke to KGVO News and described the duties of a municipal judge.

“We see all the cases that originate in Missoula city limits on anything from traffic tickets up to partner family member assaults,” said Judge Jenks. “We see all the misdemeanors that originate within the city limits. Certainly pre COVID, it wasn't unusual to conduct  70 hearings a day, which was not an unusual number, and those are people that are actually coming into court to see the judge.”

Judge Jenks described a small number of the changes that she and her staff have made to the City Court system.

“We've pretty much digitized everything,” she said. “We are largely paperless, which just really improves the efficiency, and its greener. We have a lot more use of computers and the computer data systems than we had when I started. We’ve made huge changes. It was really a major overhaul.”

One controversial aspect of municipal court was the emphasis some have made on the income stream that comes from the thousands of fines levied through the city courts.

“I can say that I've never had any pressure from the mayor's office or anything like that to raise funds or to collect funds,” she said. “That's never been what it's about. By happenstance though, it does end up being a large income item for the city. But no, I mean, as far as I'm concerned, it’s never been about revenue. I've always been really clear with City Council, that this is not something that you consider revenue.”

Judge Jenks offers some hard won advice for the next person who is elected to be a Municipal Court Judge.

“The next person that's going to be sitting in my seat needs to listen to my clerks,” she said, with a chuckle. “They know their job and they can make this court run absolutely smoothly for whoever comes in. There's also been a big change with some legislation that's going to require the judges to all be elected, so they won't be appointed judges anymore. There may be two or three judges, and I think there needs to be three.”

Jenks said in her retirement announcement that she wanted to give any interested candidates time to make a decision before the filing date in April.

 

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