Joey Jayne is the new Justice of Peace
By Alyssa Nenemay
Joey Jayne is the newly elected Justice of Peace for Lake County. With a packed schedule Jayne has been settling into her new position. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
POLSON — Judge Joey Jayne has been settling into her newly elected position as Justice of Peace for Lake County over the past month. “I would say that I had nerves my first day” she recalled. “I came in at eight that morning and an hour later, I was in court making decisions.”
Jayne is a member of the Navajo Nation and has had a 19-year legal career since graduating from the University of Montana School of Law in 1993. She has served as an attorney, a prosecutor, and has owned a law-firm.
“Growing up, I noticed there was a lot of injustice in the world. Not only in the court system-but in general: in the workplace, in the schools, in the government system. I studied law to level the playing field,” she said.
Aside from her legal career, Jayne ventured into politics serving a seven year term in the Montana State House of Representatives. She was a candidate for State Senate, and now she’s Montana’s first Native American woman Justice Court judge. “It’s an honor to be a Judge. It’s a lot of responsibility and authority and it’s an honor to have had the people elect me,” she said.
Jayne succeeded in a 12-candidate race for her seat as Lake County Justice of Peace and had a 149-vote advantage over fellow top contender Rick Schoening. During what should have been a celebration for Jayne, illegal campaigning accusations erupted against her, with one of the complaints being from a Lake County elections administrator.
Jayne is the first Native American woman Justice of Peace in the state of Montana. “It’s an honor to have had the people elect me,” she said. (Alyssa Nenemay photo)
The complaints claimed that Jayne was seen campaigning to early voters at the Lake County Courthouse polls on November 5, 2012 a day before the official Election Day. Jayne denied any wrong doing in her campaign practices and the Commissioner of Political Practice Jim Murry agreed.
According to the election rules, candidates cannot campaign at the polls on the official Election Day. Because the complaints suggested Jayne had campaigned the day prior, Murry denied the request for an investigation and Jayne began work on January 2.
Jayne is the county’s only Justice Court judge–she tries all non-tribal misdemeanor cases of Lake County including traffic court. Misdemeanors are court cases with a one-year maximum sentence and a $5,000 maximum fine. Jayne also tries civil claims up to $12,000. She sets bond for misdemeanor and felony charges and holds initial appearances. She authorizes warrants and can even marry couples.
“I haven’t had my first marriage yet,” Jayne said jokingly. “The past month has been a learning experience. I do my best to grant equality. I make decisions as best as humanely possible. There’s going to be some people who don’t like my decisions but I’m following the statute of what I’m required to do.”
The new judge said she often leans on her 19-year legal experience to assist her in the courtroom. “Throughout my career, I noticed that people go to court and they’re scared or emotional; that emotion can make them unfit to make an educated plea. They’re making decisions that will affect their whole life. When people come to my courtroom, I make sure they understand their rights and options. I can’t give legal advise but I make sure they understand their right to seek legal council,” she said.
Jayne reported that she had a very helpful support system in her clerk of courts and she is making plans to update the Justice of Peace courtroom décor.