In another initiative since taking the bench last year, Jerome McCarthy is turning the Butte City Court he presides over into a “court of record,” meaning all proceedings will be voice recorded and saved so they can be reviewed if needed, including by other courts.
McCarthy, who became City Court judge 13 months ago, got authorization for the move from Butte-Silver Bow commissioners Wednesday night.
The two District Court judges in Butte, Kurt Krueger and Robert Whelan, support the initiative, and Justice of the Peace Jimm Kilmer says there are plans to do the same thing with Butte’s Justice Courts.
“The court of record will show that Butte-Silver Bow encourages transparency and efficiency,” McCarthy wrote to commissioners in seeking their approval.
McCarthy and Whelan said without a record of proceedings, any City Court rulings appealed to District Court require a new trial starting from scratch.
If the lower courts become “courts of record,” District Court judges can first review the proceedings and determine if the appeal is justified or not or whether something else should be done at the lower level. If the appeal goes forward, there’s a record to start with.
“This is good not only for the courts but for the citizens as well,” Whelan said earlier Wednesday. “It takes a lot of the guess work out of it.”
Commissioners appointed McCarthy, who was a longtime police officer and detective in Butte, as City Court judge when Glen Granger retired last June with more than two years left on his four-year term. McCarthy must run and win the seat outright next year to keep it.
Since taking the bench, McCarthy has worked with numerous others in expanding a program that allows offenders in his court to perform community service in lieu of more jail time or costly fines.
He had more information included on the City Court’s county web page, and last month started listing the names of everyone who has outstanding warrants from the court on that page. It is updated weekly.
McCarthy and Whelan are also working to establish a court geared specifically to helping military veterans who have run afoul of the law address substance abuse, mental health issues and other problems. There are several such “veteran’s courts” in Montana now.
None of the ideas are brand new, McCarthy said, but they have proven beneficial in other places, are worthy of emulating and can increase efficiency and transparency.
“My philosophy has always been leaving a place better than when you accepted it,” he said. “And my philosophy has been, let’s make sure the court is open, let’s make sure that it’s accessible, let’s make sure that it’s a true public proceeding.”
State law allows courts below the District Court level to become “courts of record,” though statute requirements are slightly different for city courts and justice courts, McCarthy said. Local commissioners can approve the move for city courts.
McCarthy said the recording equipment has been purchased by the DUI Court in Butte, so it can be used to record proceedings in his court after it’s installed and working. The electronic files can be saved without needing a court reporter, so there’s no new cost to the county, he said.
Kilmer said the recording equipment was purchased with grant money. He said the two justice courts in Butte, including the one he presides over, also plan to become courts of record. They just need approval from commissioners and the Montana Supreme Court, he said.