by Travis Mateer
The three victorious municipal candidates on Tuesday with the three identical yard signs and the same consulting firm that totally DID NOT COORDINATE the campaigns want to take municipal court in a new direction.
What kind of direction? On October 26th, it was stuff like this:
Department 1’s Jennifer Streano, Eli Parker in Department 2 and Jacob Coolidge in Department 3 appeared together because, as Jacob Coolidge explained, they want to take Missoula’s Municipal Court in a new direction.
“The three of our opponents are all folks who either are or have basically been working under Judge (Judy) Jenks as either current assistant judges or judges pro tem,” said Coolidge. “We’re running because we think that we should be taking the court in kind of a different direction than it’s been, and in a different direction than our opponents have been taking it in. We all have worked together professionally and have kind of shared ideas about what we want to accomplish as judges.”
Later in the article, Eli Parker explained what happens when someone who is mentally ill is arrested and sent to the Missoula County Detention Center.
“When somebody is in jail because of a criminal matter and they’re mentally ill, sometimes they don’t get access to the medications they need,” said Parker. “And what I’ve seen is that then leads to a very high cost, not just for the individual, but the community, and for the staff at the jail. So, what I’ve wanted to do as a judge is to start to use my experience to get people connected back to the resources that exist in Missoula.”
On election night, when a homeless woman broke into Eli Parker’s car and refused to leave, the resources he connected the woman to was JAIL after he called police to come save him.
Here is how Parker tells the story:
Parker related a true story of an election night encounter with a homeless woman who he found had broken into his car.
“Last night at our election party, I came out to my car and I found a homeless woman in my car,” said the public defender Parker. “No, my car wasn’t locked. That’s my fault. It actually doesn’t lock from the outside. I asked her, ‘Would you please get out of my car I’m going to have to call 911’. And the officer came and that’s what it took to get her out, and we had an interesting conversation about well, do you want to ticket her or not, and I chose to.”
Parker said his choice was to just let her go and repeat what she did to someone else, or have her arrested so that she might get access to services that might be able to help her.
“Then she just would have gone and probably kept on doing the same thing,” he said. “These are the kinds of things that the Municipal Court is there for, and so what we’re talking about here is trying to find better things that work.”
This story Eli Parker tells about having a homeless woman arrested came AFTER the election. The posturing BEFORE the election from supporters of this Westridge trifecta was a little different.
Here’s a “former” public defender bashing Coolidge’s opponent, Ethan Lerman:
On Oct. 11, the Missoulian published an opinion submitted by judicial candidate Ethan Lerman. The opinion was titled, “Lerman brings experience, compassion and fairness to Missoula’s Municipal Court.”
In it, Lerman claims he “works every day to serve all Missoulians, including those suffering from addiction, mental health issues and those experiencing homelessness.” He also claims he does not, “and would never, use heavy-handed fines or incarceration to enforce minor offenses.”
As a former public defender, I practiced in front of Lerman regularly during his tenure as an assistant judge to Kathleen Jenks. In my experience, his actions do not support his claims.
The story that comes next is a selective sob story about a mean judge (Lerman) who gave a chronic offender a horribly long sentence of six months for stealing two hard lemonades. OH MY GOD, THE HORROR!
Well, maybe there’s more to the selective sob story, and here’s the judge involved to tell it:
Former public defender Ryan Aikin tells a good story, but not a complete one, about my sentencing of his client “for stealing two bottles of hard lemonade”. His client appeared in front of me in early 2020 for a change of plea on four of his 41 cases in our Municipal Court. The last of his cases that morning was for a 13th theft offense. In total, he had compiled 70 citations, comprising 41 separate cases in less than 48 months. He also had failed to appear in court no less than 47 times over that period.
This important context is left out of Aikin’s politically-motivated op-ed. As is this part:
In this case, I sentenced the individual to jail, with the condition that as soon as he obtained a chemical dependency evaluation and engaged in treatment, the remainder of his jail sentence would be suspended. This sentence was not about “two bottles of hard lemonade.” It wasn’t about my being offended by a few swear words in the courtroom. Instead, I did what I thought was best to both protect the community and provide an incentive for this individual to get the treatment he so desperately needed.
And ESPECIALLY this part:
By the way, Mr. Aikin skipped the best part of this story–it’s ending. This individual went to inpatient treatment, successfully completed treatment, an d had the entirety of his remaining jail time suspended. As of this writing, he has not appeared on new charges in Municipal Court.
Well, that judge will no longer be a judge when the Westridge Defenders are seated. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what kind of new direction this triumvirate takes Municipal Court.
Thanks for reading.