The Clerk of District Court in Yellowstone County has removed a comment from her re-election Facebook page, saying it could be interpreted as her calling half the district judges “corrupt.”
On Clerk of District Court Kristie Boelter’s re-election Facebook page, a comment by Boelter implied the longest standing judges in Yellowstone County used tactics of “intimidation” to further the “corruption” of the court.
She said she deleted the comment because it didn’t reflect what she meant.
Search warrants going back five years have been sealed after a clerical error resulted in a …
Boelter is running for her second term as court clerk and posted on her Facebook page Friday that one of her opponents was running a “negative campaign” and makes "fictional statements."
“Her message is a constant dig at me and my administration,” Boelter wrote.
In response, a supporter of Boelter's wrote that her challenger, Terry Halpin, a judicial assistant for District Court Judge Russell Fagg, was a “tool at the judges’ finger tips” and their “intimidation tactics” make the clerk’s office look “disorderly.”
Boelter complimented the commenter, adding “1/2 judges are newer and, as I see it, seem to understand that and are trying not to get intimidated themselves into being part of that corruption.”
“I was welcome with open arms until some of them found out I knew the truth,” Boelter wrote. “The truth was explained to me by another district court judge from another county in Montana. He said, ‘district court judges need the clerk of court. The clerk of court does not need district court judges.”
Boelter clarified that when she said the judges were "part of that corruption," she meant they were corrupting the way her office was run by interfering. Her office must deal with six different judges and six different ways of doing things. She is trying to standardize how documents come through. She can’t always customize the files the way the judges ask her to.
In the past, Boelter and the judges have had a contentious relationship.
In a Sept. 22, 2014, letter from the judges to Boelter, they wrote, “it continues to be a problem that files are not current, minute entries are not current and documents are not placed in files in a timely manner. The judges are unable to conduct business with incomplete or inaccurate records.”
The letter was one of three the judges have sent between 2013 and 2014.
Boelter said the letters were sent early in her tenure when things were still a little rocky. She said she and the judges now work well together.
In the first letter, dated July 22, 2013, the judges complained documents were being misplaced because they weren’t being scanned into the computer system immediately. They suggested scanners on the counters of the clerk’s office. This was not a viable plan, Boelter said, because they sometimes process documents up to 100 pages long. It would ruin the customer service of the office, Boelter said.
If minutes are missing from the record, Boelter said it would be from several clerks who quit without completing their minutes, and her office is working to correct that issue.
“Manpower is the number-one problem in the court system,” Boelter said. “...They need more judges, is it not feasible that if they’re growing, we’re growing.”
She said last week her office lost another clerk and is hiring for the position.
Boelter took responsibility last Tuesday for the accidental public release of a search warrant in a homicide case that was ordered sealed by a judge to protect the investigation. After the release, Boelter, with the agreement of Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, sealed five years’ worth of search warrants. Boelter promised to look through the warrants and make sure they were all properly filed.
When asked about the suggestion of corruption in the court, Judge Gregory Todd said he could not comment because judges are required to stay neutral in partisan political elections.
Former Montana Bar Association President Mark Parker said the Clerk of Court position is imperative to maintaining accurate court records.
“The Supreme Court demands it because they’re called upon sometimes to review the work of the judge and if it’s not in the record then where do they go,” Parker said.
In addition, the public has a similar right to know, Parker said. Media outlets can’t have someone at the courts all the time, Parker said. The documents must be accurate so they can report to the public.
Boelter won her seat in 2012, beating incumbent District Court Clerk Carol Muessig. Muessig beat Laura Brent in 2008. Brent and the District Court judges at that time also clashed over the way she handled her office, including going over budget. It got to the point where judges suggested Brent could be held in contempt of court.
This year's Clerk of District Court election will be in June.
Nancy Sweeney has been Lewis and Clark Clerk of District Court for 37 years and is the former president of the Montana Association of Clerks of District Court. She said the clerk is a county position and has complete autonomy. While their general duties dictate the basic functions of a Clerk of District Court's job, things like "keeping the minutes of the court" does not have any direction as to what the content of those minutes must be.
The clerk maintains the state records of district court, grants marriage licenses, handles child support payments, processes divorces and parenting plans, and do more than just maintain the record, Sweeney said. Still, if all the court needed to maintain a record was a court transcript, there would be no need for a Clerk of District Court, Sweeney said.
"It is to our benefit to work hand-in-hand, in the interest of justice, with the Attorney General's office, the Public Defender's Office, the judges and the media," Sweeney said.