Anyone that’s wandered into the Missoula County Clerk of District Court’s office on the second floor of the courthouse likely has bumped into Shirley Faust.
As the elected Clerk of District Court, Faust maintains all the records for the Missoula County District Court, including both criminal and civil cases. Her office also issues all the marriage licenses for the county and keeps an up-to-date list of eligible jurors for trials in the county’s district court. She oversees an office of 18 deputy clerks.
Faust is also the current longest-serving elected official in the county. That will change with her retirement at the end of November.
“Shirley is as committed a public servant as they come,” Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero said of Faust. “We will miss her dedication to public service, her kindness and her commitment to providing access to justice for all.”
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She’s spent 20 years in the position. In that time, Faust has overseen the clerk's office as it filed hundreds of cases per year, adjusted to technology changes and navigated the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m so proud to have worked for Missoula County,” she said.
Faust began her tenure in 2002 when she was appointed to the clerk post, and then was elected in 2004. Since then, she’s run for the job and won five times.
In 2005, the office moved from a tight space on the courthouse’s top floor to its current, roomy location on the second floor. It also saw the addition of Missoula’s Department 5 judge after the Legislature approved the position in 2017.
In staying current with modern technology, Faust led the clerk’s office through many tech updates and improvements. One of the first things Faust said she did when she took over in 2002 was get everyone set up with an email address.
“When I first stepped into the Clerk of Court office, only the (head) clerk and chief deputy had email,” she said. “None of the deputy clerks did.”
Scanners were also absent from the office; documents were microfilmed. That morphed into getting scanners for the whole staff. In 2016, Missoula was the pilot court for “e-filing” records, meaning court documents are submitted via an electronic system rather than paper form.
Staffing shortages and adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges to Faust’s office.
“The clerk’s office did all the heavy lifting in putting together a plan for jury selection that was safe,” Faust recalled. In the spring and summer of 2020, Faust remembered checking jurors in on the courthouse lawn.
That’s when the clerk’s office learned everything could be done via Zoom, which forced a few ways to work differently.
“As an elected official and department head, I just felt such a responsibility for the safety of my staff and the public and everybody who visited our office,” she said. “That was a huge responsibility.”
Faust amassed many memories in her time as head clerk.
One that stands out was the day the U.S. District Court gave local courts the go-ahead for issuing same-sex marriage licenses in 2014, she recalled.
“The day after was hands-down the most rewarding day of my career,” Faust said. “To see these couples who had been committed to each other for so many years and now could be formally recognized by the state and get a marriage license and get married, it was very moving. It was such a festive day.”
She remembers scrambling to figure out how to remove the “bride” and “groom” language from Missoula’s marriage applications and licenses.
Professional relationships were a pillar of Faust’s time as clerk. She especially is grateful to have worked with many amazing women, including attorneys and county leaders.
Faust’s desk sits in a corner cubicle of the clerk’s department. Right outside of it, dozens of dense, county records books dating back to 1865 line the walls. Faust has a deep love for the old records and can explain just about anything the dated entries mean.
“Access to public records is so important,” Faust said, adding it’s important that the records be available to everyone so the public is confident that there’s nothing underhanded going on in government.
Faust is also a member of the Montana Association of Clerks of District Court and was appointed to the legislative committee, which will expire when she leaves the position.
She’s looking forward to retirement and decompressing, but it’s clear she’ll miss the people she works with day-to-day. Faust is an avid Griz fan and loves to golf at the Canyon River Golf Club and hopes to fill her newfound free time with family and traveling.
“This has been my job for 20 years,” she said. “It’ll feel really strange in the morning (to) not go to work.”
The Missoula County commissioners will pick Faust’s successor. The commissioners plan to open the search up to internal candidates first and then expand if needed. Interviews for the new clerk are scheduled for Nov. 29 and Nov. 30. The selected candidate would need to run again for the position in the 2024 election.