The Yellowstone County office of District Court clerk has fewer than 20 employees led by a clerk elected to a four-year term. Our county has the busiest office in the state, opening about 5,000 new files annually. The office is responsible for timely and efficient processing of court documents -- filing, securing and providing documents. Its work is spelled out in state law and generally is not controversial.
However, four years ago, the clerk’s office was failing in its responsibilities. The five Yellowstone County District Court judges had taken the extraordinary steps of issuing 11 orders to the clerk, directing her to make needed changes. Problems in the clerk’s office were hindering the justice system.
Yellowstone County voters elected Carol Muessig to clear up those problems, and she has.
“In contrast to her predecessor, Carol has met with the judges, is open to discussing matters and communication is good,” Chief District Judge Gregory Todd said recently. Turnover this year in the clerk’s office has not affected operations, Todd said.
Kristi Boelter, who is running against Muessig in the general election, resigned from the clerk’s office in August. Muessig hired Boelter in the fall of 2009 to process marriage licenses; she later worked on court filings. That is the total of her legal field experience.
Muessig had worked as a legal secretary for 29 years before being elected clerk in 2008. She was experienced in filing with state courts and with federal courts.
Muessig knows how to do all the clerk’s work and loves her job. She has implemented the state’s Full Court computer system and worked with county IT specialists to provide the sheriff and county attorney electronic access to the clerk’s records. Public electronic access and filing will have to wait till the state moves forward with a new computer system that has those capabilities.
Muessig also knows how to operate within the county’s tight budget. The office’s overtime budget was overspent when she took office. She has since cut out overtime, except in unavoidable cases such as jury trials that stretch into the evening. When the County Commission told department heads that they needed to cut budgets 5 percent, Muessig trimmed office supplies, reduced the travel budget and focused on in-house training. When a sixth District Court judge was added, Muessig asked the commission to fund two new deputy clerks. She got one and made do.
We recommend Muessig to voters as the experienced, common-sense choice to keep the clerk of District Court office running efficiently for four more years.