AG: County Commissions Must Pay Justice Court’s Clerical Costs
HELENA – In a formal opinion issued Tuesday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that county commissions have a duty to pay clerical expenses associated with the operations of justice courts. McGrath also said that when disputes over clerical expenses occur, a procedural rule adopted by the Montana Supreme Court applies.
Hill County Attorney David Rice requested the opinion. In his request, Rice noted a situation in Pondera County in which a county commission denied a request from the Justice of the Peace to increase a court clerk’s hours.
McGrath cited a 1975 Montana Supreme Court opinion that established a review process for such requests. In that decision, the Supreme Court said Justices of the Peace must submit claims for clerical expenses to a senior district judge and that judge must certify whether the expenses are necessary.
Rice had also asked if legislation passed in 1979 contradicted the review process. Senate Bill 481, passed by the 1979 Legislature, changed a Montana law related to court expenses by substituting “actual and necessary travel expenses” for what had previously been “expenses.” McGrath held that the change was intended to standardize payment of travel expenses for court personnel, not to amend Montana law requiring county commissioners to pay clerical expenses.
An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.