By Tim Eberly
Since City Court Judge Joyce Perszyk took office four years ago, a federal grant has accounted for 12 hours of her full-time weekly income.
But on Aug. 28, Perszyk was notified that the so-called Encourage Arrest Policies grant, dispersed from the U.S. Department of Justice's Violence Against Women program, was not renewed and that it had, in fact, expired two months earlier. A week ago, she was notified that a part-time pay scale was in effect for her job.
"It was like being sent to my room," Perszyk said. "I'm sitting at home thinking that I have all this work to do."
As a result, Perszyk is faced with the challenge of squeezing her ever-expanding full-time workload into a part-time job. She has 115 scheduled cases on the court docket from now until Dec. 1 many of which will have to be rescheduled and 87 court appearances today. In 1993, when Perszyk began working as a court clerk, 1,690 cases were tried, compared with 2,960 cases already in 2001.
"We don't take coffee breaks. There's no time," Perszyk said of her current schedule. "I don't know what I'm going to do. It's not that I'm cutting cases; I'm reshuffling. I'll have to reschedule and fit them into the hours."
Causes for nonrenewal of the grant stem from several factors. The grant expanded its guidelines last year, becoming the Encourage Arrest Policies and Enforcement of Protection Orders grant. Also, this year it began accepting new applicants for the first time since 1997.
"When we first got the grant, not a lot of people knew about it," said Roxanne Ross, program director for the domestic abuse program with the District 4 Human Resources Development Council. "But when they opened it up for everybody to apply not just renewals that made it extremely competitive."
During a Havre City Council finance committee meeting Monday, Perszyk requested the council allocate necessary funds to finance the extra 12 hours per week. She said the shift to a 28-hour week would back up the court system, which is already clogged. Long-term effects include delays in adjudicating cases. Also, the shortage of hours would overburden the city court clerk, Beth Rucinsky, as well as her part-time volunteer of seven years, Mary Etta Sohm, from the Senior Citizens Volunteer Center.
Police Chief Kevin Olson, who was present at the meeting and made a brief statement in support of Perszyk, said, "We're in a precarious situation. I believe that our court system needs to be open to the city of Havre five days a week. I was disappointed the grant had discontinued."
Before June, the federal grant had been renewed for the city of Havre three times. The first two renewals were for 18 months, and the most recent extension lasted for a year. Havre and Bozeman are the only two cities in Montana to have received this type of grant. Now Bozeman stands alone.
"I'm going to work what they tell me to work with the hours that they give me," said Perszyk, whose husband, Joe, is a building maintainence employee at the Post Office. "It isn't going to be easy, by any means."