By Tim Leeds
The candidates for Havre city judge both bring experience and a desire to serve to this year's race for the position.
Havre public defender Carl White said city judges should perform their duties because they want to help the community, and that's why he is running for the position.
"I see the judgeship as a matter of public service," he said, " and a very honorable public service."
White added that he is also running to give Havre voters a choice in Tuesday's election. He thinks Judge Joyce Perszyk would be running unopposed if he hadn't filed for the election.
Perszyk said she wants to finish what she hasn't been able to finish in her first term. There are many things to be done that could improve the court, making it more efficient, she said, adding, "I think we have a long way to go with streamlining."
Perszyk said the court needs to be upgraded and brought into the computer age. The court offices received Internet access only a few months ago. The forms the court uses need to be upgraded to make them more professional in appearance, she said. They also need to be streamlined, with unnecessary wording and duplication eliminated.
The court has so much paperwork, she said, that removing unnecessary forms and duplication could save a lot of time.
"It's just endless, seems like volumes," Perszyk said. "It has to be done or you're going to sink."
Perszyk said computerizing the forms would help enormously, and will become more necessary as time goes by.
White said one way to increase the efficiency of the court is to follow the lead of other courts in Montana and take the judge out of pretrial hearings. The prosecuting and defending attorneys could exchange witness lists and agree to most motions, leaving the judge's only necessity to set the trial date.
"I think that would save a great deal of time," he said.
White thinks the decorum of the court could also stand improvement. The judge should always treat everyone with respect and should listen sincerely to both sides. "Because that's the judge's job, to be neutral and impartial," he said.
White, while declining to mention Perszyk by name, said the judge seems to make up her mind after reading just one side's statements.
Perszyk said she makes a conscious effort to listen to both sides.
"I know I'm a hard worker. I know I do apply common sense. I certainly have the experience by age. I certainly try to listen to both sides," she said.
Perszyk took office to finish a previous judge's term, then was elected in 1997. Before becoming the city judge, she worked as the city court clerk, starting in 1993. She said her inside experience helps her with the court. She worked under three different judges and learned different styles and techniques from them.
Perszyk has also attended two required judge's schools every year since being elected, and has attended other judge's schools, including the Judge's Institute and taking classes at the University of Montana.
White, who earned a bachelor's degree in business information systems and a law degree from the University of Montana, worked as a law clerk for District Judge John Warner from February 1994 to June 1995. He also served as special master for Warner, hearing smaller cases remanded to him by Warner.
White said he applied for the public defender position at Warner's recommendation. He has been practicing law in Havre ever since, and currently has three cases before the Montana Supreme Court.
"I think I have a reasonably good grasp what the law is," he said.
Perszyk, a Havre native, has a degree in business administration from Northern Montana College. A law degree is not required for the position. The city judge hears misdemeanor criminal cases and small civil cases.
Having her background helps with other functions of the court's office, Perszyk said. If someone is sick or on vacation, she can step in and do the work. She said she would like to increase the staff of the court if she could, adding a person to check on compliance of court orders, and antoher person to collect fines and court fees. The people could rotate through the positions to cross-train in them, providing several people able to do each job.
Right now, Perszyk said, if a person is gone from the office, the judge has to step in and do the work "or you're out of business."
White, who was born in Missoula and met his future wife while attending Fort Benton High School, thinks one of the biggest issues facing Havre is violations of restraining orders in cases of domestic violence. He said he's not saying there are a huge number of such violations, but there are enough to be a concern.
"I think that is a matter of great seriousness," he said. "It indicates to me the potential for a very dangerous situation for the spouse."