By Ross Markman
Of everything Carol Chagnon experienced during her 16 years as Hill County justice of the peace, nothing, she said, compares to the people.
Every last one of them.
"It's probably one of the most rewarding experiences a person could have, getting to meet and working with all different kinds of people," she said.
Chagnon's employment with the county will end on April 30, more than six months before she originally intended. She told the county commissioners about her plans on Wednesday.
A temporary replacement will be named within the next two weeks.
"It's just the time. It's just the right time," Chagnon said today.
In March, Chagnon said she wouldn't file for re-election to a fifth term in the nonpartisan position. At the time, she cited her husband Paul's health as the reason. Paul Chagnon suffered a stroke in September.
Today, Carol Chagnon once again cited her husband's welfare as the motive for the difficult decision.
"Mostly, the big thing is my husband's health. He gets pretty lonely, and I feel I need to be there," Chagnon said. "Otherwise, I would have stayed until the end of the term."
Paul, she said, is pleased with her decision.
"He's very happy. He can't drive or work with his power tools," she said. "And he was very active before the stroke."
Lillian Bachmeier, Chagnon's clerk for the last 11 years, said the justice's early exit wasn't much of a surprise.
"I knew how she felt since Paul had the stroke. Just from conversations we've had, I felt she needed to do this and she felt she needed to do this," Bachmeier said. "We work well together. I'll miss that."
Chagnon's career in the Hill County Courthouse began three decades ago as a secretary and clerk in juvenile court a time she said was both challenging and enjoyable.
Her years on the bench, she said, cultivated a love for the law and for people.
"Anyone that doesn't think this is the most interesting job they've ever had I always like to say I have the most exciting job in Havre," Chagnon said.
The key to the position, she added, is treating those who come to her court with courtesy.
"If you treat them with respect, they'll treat you with respect," Chagnon said. "I just hope (her replacement) will treat people with the respect they deserve. It shouldn't be looked at as an authority position. It's administering justice, not passing judgment."
The Hill County Commission will name an interim justice of the peace by April 22, Commissioner Kathy Bessette said. The appointee will attend a judge's training session from April 22-26, where he or she will receive a temporary certificate.
The commissioners are considering several people for the position.
"The (interim justice) will really be helping us out big time," Bessette said. "Obviously, the person won't have the experience. But I think people will be able to help."
Havre City Judge Joyce Perszyk and Blaine County Justice of the Peace Perry Miller have volunteered to assist in the transition, Bessette said.
Havre Public Schools substitute teacher Ray Bergh and retired Montana Highway Patrol officer Terry Stoppa, both of whom have filed to run in June's primary election, are eligible for the interim job, Commissioner Doug Kaercher said.
"But we don't think it would be appropriate to appoint one of them," Kaercher said. "It would give them an unfair advantage in the election."
Chagnon, meanwhile, will put her retirement to good use, spending time with her husband of 47 years at their country home 3 miles outside of Havre.
"Every day, I'm losing lots and lots of sleep over it. It's real hard to leave a job you enjoy so much," she said. "But I know I'm doing the right thing."