Lake County judge resigns, is subject of sexual harassment complaints

2012-08-14T06:00:00Z 2012-10-28T05:47:58Z Lake County judge resigns, is subject of sexual harassment complaintsBy VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian missoulian.com
August 14, 2012 6:00 am  • 

POLSON – A former Montana State Supreme Court justice is filling in as Lake County justice of the peace after the abrupt resignation of Judge Chuck Wall last week.

Wall, midway through his third term as justice of the peace, submitted his resignation to the Lake County commissioners at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. It was effective at the end of the day.

In a prepared statement he released Monday, Wall said:

“Judges are – and should be – held to very high standards of conduct, both in their professional and personal affairs. One such standard is that they avoid any appearance of impropriety.

“In an effort to lighten the atmosphere and make both my office and my small-town Montana but very busy courtroom a more enjoyable and less stressful and intimidating place to work and appear, I have said some things that in hindsight were not becoming of a member of the judiciary. No harm was ever intended.”

Wall confirmed to the Missoulian Monday that he was the subject of sexual harassment complaints filed with the Montana Human Rights Bureau by two members of the court’s staff, and that settlements had been reached in both cases.

Because of confidentiality agreements in the settlements, Wall said he could not comment further without first speaking to his attorney, who was out of town.

Mike Sehestedt, chief legal counsel for the Montana Association of Counties that, among other things, helps county governments obtain insurance coverage, declined to comment on the cases.

***

Meantime, in the wake of Wall’s sudden resignation and the absence of three of the four clerks who worked in the justice of the peace office, Lake County Commission chairman Paddy Trusler said commissioners scrambled last week to keep the court up and running.

Retired Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz, who lives with her husband in a home near Flathead Lake, agreed to step in while commissioners search for a replacement to serve until Jan. 1.

Commissioner Ann Brower said one of the first things Barz had to do was ask the Montana Supreme Court she once served on to waive a requirement that she complete mandated training before serving as a justice of the peace.

Trusler said the commissioners will meet at 2 p.m. Tuesday, with the hopes of appointing someone to serve out the remainder of the year. Trusler said Barz is not interested in filling in for more than three weeks, and they hope to find someone, perhaps a local attorney, who will accept a temporary appointment and agree not to file and campaign for the job.

The only qualifications required by law in order to run for the job, Trusler said, are that a person “be at least 18 years old, and breathing. And, I think you have to have been a resident of the county for a certain amount of time.”

The justice of the peace position will now appear on the November general election ballot. Interested candidates have until 5 p.m. on Aug. 22 to file for the office with the Lake County Elections Office. Trusler said the job pays approximately $46,000 per year.

The winner in November will fill out the remaining two years of Wall’s term starting Jan. 1.

Wall had been justice of the peace for 10 years. Now, Lake County could see four separate justices of the peace in less than five months.

***

Two of the four clerks in the office recently resigned to accept other jobs, and a third is on family medical leave, Trusler said.

“Former employees and elected officials have stepped up to the plate to keep us moving, or I’m not sure what we would have done,” he said. They include former clerk and recorder Ruth Hodges.

In his prepared statement, Wall said he resigned in order to save his family and Lake County citizens the expense of continued legal proceedings, and to “allow my position to be placed on the November ballot for a fair election of my replacement.”

He indicated in both his statement and the resignation he submitted to the commissioners that he planned on entering into private practice in Lake County.

A 1992 graduate of the University of South Carolina, Wall earned his law degree in 1996 from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Ala.

“I appreciate the trust and confidence you have placed in me,” Wall also said in his statement, “am grateful for the opportunity to have served as your justice of the peace for the past 10 years, and hope that I have made some positive contributions to at least a few people’s lives.”

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at vdevlin@missoulian.com.

Copyright 2015 missoulian.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(26) Comments

  1. Valley Native
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    Valley Native - August 20, 2012 2:02 pm
    How sad that so many people interject their own assumptions into a story like this. The Clerks may or may not have been sexually harassed; and the Judge may or not be guilty of sexual harassment. We, the public, will never know unless the matter goes to trial. In the meantime, your rash presumptions make you look like a fool.
  2. mbuckmeister
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    mbuckmeister - August 19, 2012 9:40 am
    This whole report saddens me. I don't know the facts surrounding Judge Wall's resignation, and let me just mention....neither do most others... Let's not prejudge. I always found Judge Wall to be an upstanding and fair representative of our local government. I can also see where Judge Wall could very well have been the victim of sexual harassment advances himself in the past.

    This has to be hard on his family, all other families involved, as well as for Lake County.
  3. Steve in Polson
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    Steve in Polson - August 15, 2012 5:34 pm
    There is more truth out there that cannot be disclosed unless Judge Wall wants it out.
  4. old AZ hippie
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    old AZ hippie - August 15, 2012 2:46 am
    Wow, I hear very little empathy or understanding for what the workers may have gone thru. Don't know about you, but if someone had falsely accused me of this, I'd fight it to the death. Just sayin'.
  5. LakeView
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    LakeView - August 14, 2012 4:47 pm
    I am always so surprised when people are so cruel. Leave him alone. You are harming more than he with your comments for goodness sake!!
  6. LakeView
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    LakeView - August 14, 2012 4:42 pm
    He did not recieve this training until after the incident FYI.
  7. CitizenRonan
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    CitizenRonan - August 14, 2012 3:26 pm
    It's confidential because no information was released... All that article says is that there were settlements, same as this article.

    No details were released, you are only discrediting yourself by filling in the blanks with your imagination.

    Innocent until proven guilty. Further, the INSURER paid the claims. Insurers have no interest in truth, guilt, justice. Just the bottom line... Like most people who file frivolous lawsuits.
  8. gfield
    Report Abuse
    gfield - August 14, 2012 3:05 pm
    http://www.leaderadvertiser.com/news/article_fd9aec28-58d0-11e1-81b4-001871e3ce6c.html

  9. gfield
    Report Abuse
    gfield - August 14, 2012 2:55 pm
    What confidential information am I revealing? 2 girls, people back up, same stories??? The county settled with the girls out of court. Does that not speak volumes about what was happening in that office??
  10. CitizenRonan
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    CitizenRonan - August 14, 2012 2:43 pm
    I blamed no one... But here you are spouting unfounded rumors, pretending YOU worked there and know what was in the CONFIDENTIAL proceedings. Please calm your hysterical slandering.
  11. CitizenRonan
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    CitizenRonan - August 14, 2012 2:36 pm
    You're right!
    If you've been victimized by a joke and are unsure if it was offensive or not, consult legal counsel immediately.

    Chuck Wall's mistake was thinking that Montana was immune from the politically correct, litigious nonsense that dominates in the US.
  12. gfield
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    gfield - August 14, 2012 2:31 pm
    I have first hand knowledge and know for a FACT that this happened. I believe taking your finger from the bottom of someones leg to their butt constitutes physical sexual harassment.
  13. TwinNumberTwo
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    TwinNumberTwo - August 14, 2012 2:04 pm
    "...devoid of class or a sense of humor."
    Those "I was just joking around with her/him" excuses are so lame and have been since it became a phenomenon when women stepped into the work force, be it white or blue collar. In two of the three law firms in which I've worked, a sexual harrassment training was required of all employees and partners. One of the main points that I took away from those trainings is that sexual harrassment is often subjective; I might not feel that an off-color joke is harrassment, while others might. In this case, the Judge, being a judge, should be fully aware of the guidelines of professional behavior-- he should just know better.
  14. CitizenRonan
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    CitizenRonan - August 14, 2012 1:59 pm
    BS, I know several and have never heard of anything like that... Even in social situations Chuck Wall acts like a gentleman.

    I've got an active imagination, but I cannot imagine him ever initiating physical contact on an employee.
  15. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - August 14, 2012 1:56 pm
    TWIN NUMBER TWO, it is NOT illegal to yell "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre --- in fact, one might even have a civic duty to do so, if there really IS a fire. What the SCOTUS said was the 1st Amendment did not protect a right to yell "Fire!" FALSELY in a crowded theatre thereby causing a panic.
  16. Curmudgeon
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    Curmudgeon - August 14, 2012 1:47 pm
    But Mr. Arthur P. KASKE is not prejudiced nor bigoted nor judging frm the particular to the general, oh, my, NO-o-o-o-, that just would't be FAIR, would it.

    (Sarcasm button now OFF.)
  17. gfield
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    gfield - August 14, 2012 1:26 pm
    This law suit started over 1 year ago. If he is such a standup citizen why didn't he resign then??? The human rights commission had enough people to back up the two girls. That is why he resigned. And the same two stories are over 5 years apart!
  18. gfield
    Report Abuse
    gfield - August 14, 2012 1:22 pm
    Don't you dare blame the workers!!! Did you ever WORK there??? He was a different person to the public than he was to workers!!! I wish I would have spoken sooner so the two girls who ended up filing with the human rights bureau would have never had to go through what they did. How is it that 2 people who do not know each other had the same thing happen to them!!!
  19. CitizenRonan
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    CitizenRonan - August 14, 2012 1:05 pm
    I was in Chuck Wall's court and pleaded guilty. He treated me fairly, as he has done in every case I have heard of him ruling.

    I later came to know him as a casual friend and he is a truly good guy. He has a sense of humor, who doesn't? My guess is some opportunistic people, devoid of any class or humor, will deprive Lake County citizens of their best judge for the chance at a few thousand dollars.
  20. gfield
    Report Abuse
    gfield - August 14, 2012 1:05 pm
    Just ask any person who has worked in the court system with him and they know how long it has been happening. Not just comments by physical things as well!
  21. gfield
    Report Abuse
    gfield - August 14, 2012 1:03 pm
    Really????!!!! This has been happening for over 6 years and now he is a standup guy for apologizing???!!!!
  22. TwinNumberTwo
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    TwinNumberTwo - August 14, 2012 12:05 pm
    Yes, the Judge has First Amendment rights, and the people he harrassed (or who feel they were harrassed) have the right to sue him, and possibly his superiors, for it. I can just imagine the ex-Judge's attorney making that argument before a jury: "It's within my client's Constitutional rights to sexually harrass his co-workers-- or, for that matter, to yell 'fire!' in a crowded theater." Quick, call the ACLU!
  23. Alan Johnson
    Report Abuse
    Alan Johnson - August 14, 2012 11:09 am
    Chuck Wall is a stand-up guy. He may have done wrong but he's big enough to take responsibility and do the most responsible thing for Lake County. I wish him success in private practice.
  24. wise1
    Report Abuse
    wise1 - August 14, 2012 10:13 am
    Knowing nothing about the case except what I read in this article, I really respect his decision to step down rather than draw this out in a long legal battle.
  25. COMMON SENSE
    Report Abuse
    COMMON SENSE - August 14, 2012 9:48 am
    Sounds to me like the judge recognizes that he made an error (yes, judges are human beings too) in his conduct and is stepping down voluntarily to face the music in a fashion least damaging to the judiciary as well as the community at large. I respect the judge for having the stones to admit he made an error and step down. Besides, could it not also be argued that judges are U.S. citizens too, with the same 1st amendment rights granted to you and me under the Constitution? Whatever the judge originally said may have been unprofessional and in bad taste, but that does not invalidate his right to free speech and expression.
  26. arthurpkaske
    Report Abuse
    arthurpkaske - August 14, 2012 4:02 am
    Montana's judiciary is sooooo corrupt.
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