After weeks of fill-ins, Missoula has a new Municipal Court judge.
Sam Warren, sworn in Tuesday by Judge Kathleen Jenks, is a familiar face around City Hall. After all, he’s been one of those substitute judges for years.
“You have been a constant presence in court and such a great help,” Jenks told Warren after administering the oath.
“I’m no stranger here,” Warren acknowledged with a smile after struggling into the voluminous black robe he’ll wear on the bench.
Warren replaces Marie Andersen, who left the job in October. Andersen said Jenks fired her, although Jenks denied that. At the time, though, Jenks made it clear she would not reappoint Anderson this month, and indeed chose Warren instead.
“He’s worked very hard at Municipal Court and has been willing to accept the changes,” she said.
Chief among those changes is a focus on rigorous record-keeping, as well as consistency in penalties for the misdemeanor offenses and tickets dealt with in Municipal Court. Used to be, people who simply paid their traffic tickets ended up shelling out the full amount of the penalty.
But the accepted wisdom was that people who took the time to go to court and argue their cases either received far lighter penalties, or none at all. That perception earned Jenks’ predecessor, Don Louden, the sobriquet “Let ’Em Loose Louden.”
“I don’t see it as aggressive or firm, so much as fair,” Warren said Tuesday of his own approach. “... I don’t think I’m draconian or particularly tough, I just think the rules should apply” evenly to all.
Warren, who was a deputy city attorney in Missoula in the 1980s before going into private practice, said that after easing into the job as a substitute judge, he looks forward to the breakneck pace of Municipal Court.
“It’s like driving very fast. It’s an intoxicating thing,” he said. “And as I’ve learned in this job, driving fast is something that people like to do.”
He also enjoys the opportunity to give folks advice that might help them take their lives in a different direction.
“Ninety-nine percent of the people you deal with are nice, average citizens getting traffic tickets. We’re not dealing with Ted Bundy here,” he said in a reference to the notorious mass murderer.
Warren will work nearly full time, between 30 and 40 hours a week, at $33.20 an hour.
On Tuesdays, Jenks’ relief was obvious. Municipal Court deals with 26,000 citations a year, she said.
Referring to Warren’s coming aboard, she said that “I can’t imagine that it would affect me in any way but making my life a whole lot easier.”
Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, firstname.lastname@example.org or @CopsAndCourts.