Municipal Court’s Marie Andersen, dismissed last week as assistant judge, cleaned out her office Saturday under police watch, according to a city official.
Andersen, in the midst of a tangled departure from City Hall, said Wednesday she could not discuss the situation, and she directed questions to her lawyer. She served as assistant judge since 2006.
“When I can talk to you, I’ll be more than happy to,” Andersen said.
Last Friday, Andersen confirmed news she had been fired without warning by head Judge Kathleen Jenks.
Jenks, however, denied she had terminated the assistant judge, although she said she had the authority to do so. She also said she had no plans to reappoint Andersen come December, and she notified Andersen on Thursday.
Lawyer Beth O’Halloran could not be reached Wednesday for comment, but Andersen’s unexpected departure has upset some colleagues, including one former co-worker. The police presence in particular unnerved some members of the public who heard news of the event.
Linda Wolfe, who worked in Municipal Court for 10 years before taking another court job in Missoula County, said Andersen shouldn’t have been forced to have law enforcement present as she packed her things. The situation embarrassed the officer, too, she said.
“She (Andersen) was told to get out of the office and have her office cleaned out by last weekend,” Wolfe said.
City chief administrative officer Bruce Bender, though, said it’s normal for a city employee’s supervisor to coordinate departures with human resources. However, Bender said the HR director couldn’t be in the office right on time to oversee Andersen box up her belongings, so an officer from the Missoula Police Department stepped in.
Police are available on the weekends unlike other city employees, he said. “The police was just asked to be there as a normal, regular city representative.”
Bender said court manager Tina Schmaus also was present and, after a while, the human resources director as well. Bender didn’t know who wanted Andersen’s departure supervised, but he said “certain circumstances require that.”
“I’ve seen that happen several times in my career,” Bender said.
He said Andersen is on paid administrative leave until early December when her appointment as judge ends, but he said there’s discussion about having her do “other work in the interim.” The circumstances around the dismissal remain murky, but Bender said Andersen is not returning as a judge after the conversation last Thursday.
“It was kind of clarified. ‘Your duties are not needed here right now, so you’ll be on leave until the end of the term,’ ” Bender said.
He would not confirm Andersen was told at the same time to clean out her office by the weekend. Court manager Schmaus declined to comment, and she directed questions to city communications director Ginny Merriam.
Judge Jenks also said she didn’t order Andersen to clean out her desk by last weekend, but she said she wants to respect Andersen’s right to privacy. She anticipated issuing a joint statement with Andersen when the matter was resolved.
“It’s just a personnel issue, and you know, at this stage, we’re still communicating, and until there’s some kind of resolution, we’re probably not going to be able to give you a lot of information,” Jenks said.
Jenks, appointed to lead the court last year after Judge Donald Louden retired, said Municipal Court continues to do business as usual. Andersen was not a full-time judge, and the court is using other substitute judges as it does on a regular basis.
“The court is still functioning with essentially the same judges that we have been for the last year with the exception of Marie,” Jenks said. “The hours are the same. We’re handling the same volume and the same cases.”
In fact, said Bender, the court is being managed better than it has been for some 30 years, and he credited Jenks. Both the judge and the mayor are elected, and while they work for separate branches of government, the administration butted heads with the previous judge.
“I’ve heard the mayor say he has the highest respect and regard for Judge Jenks’ capabilities and judgment,” Bender said.
Last November, the Missoula City Council appointed Jenks to fill out the remainder of Louden’s term. The office will be on the 2013 city elections ballot.