By Alan Sorensen
After hearing nearly an hour of arguments on behalf of and against convicted city court embezzler Joan Daulton, 12th Judicial District Court Judge John Warner gave Daulton a stiff sentence.
Warner ruled that Daulton must serve 10 days of the 10-year suspended prison sentence in Hill County Jail and that she must pay more than $25,000 in restitution.
Daulton, aka Joan Nordon, 39, pleaded guilty Feb. 22 to stealing $10,679 from Havre City Court between December 1997 and August 2000 while serving as city court clerk.
Daulton admitted signing for funds received from the Havre Police Department and from people paying court ordered fines, but not depositing the funds or processing the tickets through the court system.
City Judge Joyce Perszyk discovered the missing funds while Daulton was on vacation. She immediately notified the Havre Police who started an investigation.
A search of Daulton's east Havre home by Havre police and an agent of the Montana Department of Justice on Aug. 23, 2000 turned up complaints, receipts and time-pay cards belonging to the court. An independent audit commissioned by the City of Havre at a cost of $11,680 plus $517.50 in equip-ment costs confirmed the missing funds.
Daulton's restitution comes to $22,876.50 plus a 10 percent fee, for a total of $25,164.15
Daulton's job with the city had paid nearly $10 an hour with benefits. Her job with Kmart today pays fewer than $6 per hour without benefits.
In the plea agreement that Daulton and her lawyer, Robert Peterson of Havre, entered into with the state, Daulton would have had to pay $10,000 restitution and serve 60 days in jail. She also would have had a probation period with conditions.
Peterson contended Tuesday afternoon that Daulton's supervisors at Kmart had said earlier that Daulton could serve her term in jail as part of an extended leave from the store. Upon her release, she could either resume her position or reapply. They had since learned that the store policy would be termination without opportunity for re-employment, he said.
Peterson further asked that the court give Daulton a 6-year deferred imposition of sentence contingent upon her making a good-faith effort to pay the $10,000 restitution. He said the court could reserve the right to revoke the deferment and send Daulton to prison for the full 10 years. In the event that Daulton completed her deferment, the felony conviction would be erased from her record.
Judge Warner recognized that Daulton had no previous criminal record and that she was a nonviolent offender. He also agreed, however, with City Court Judge Joyce Perszyk, who testified that Daulton's crime was doubly bad because it broke a public trust. Perszyk said that the fines were paid by people who often times could ill afford to pay them and who, if the record were left incomplete, could be arrested and jail for nonpayment of fines that they had actually paid.
Daulton and her husband had agreed during the pre-sentence investigation to budget $100 a month out of their $1,500 per month income toward restitution.
Judge Warner opted for the 10-year suspended sentence, he said, because Daulton's was a "secret offense and reprehensible."
"You violated a public trust that must include not just restitution but punishment," Warner said. He ordered Daulton to spend the 10-day jail sentence so she could "learn what the inside of a jail feels like" and so she would "know that this is what is coming if the restitution is not met."
Daulton must begin serving the 10 consecutive days in jail on Saturday.
Other conditions of her release require Daulton to pay the $15 per month supervisory fee, refrain from alcohol and street drug use, stay out of bars and casinos, remain subject to random tests of her bodily fluids and searches of her home, vehicle and person, and maintain her employment. She also must complete 100 hours of community service.
Warner cautioned Daulton that failure to meet the conditions could result in her immediate incarceration for 30 days pending further legal action.
Warner also said he would retain jurisdiction to adjust Daulton's restitution, to make it less if necessary, to see that it is paid. "Sometimes a lump sum can be negotiated and you can get on with your life," he said.