Court administrator fired for 'insubordination'
The old Flathead County Courthouse is seen in Kalispell in this file photo. (Daily Inter Lake)
Daily Inter Lake | July 30, 2021 5:00 PM
The administrator of Flathead County Justice Court recently was fired after judges accused her of "insubordination" as well as mistreating and "micromanaging" the court clerks under her supervision.
Kimberly Dumon disputed the allegations and appealed the judges' decision to the Flathead County commissioners, who voted to uphold her termination on July 20. Her attorney told the Daily Inter Lake they are considering filing a lawsuit.
Dumon spent 13 years managing the operations of the Justice Court, which handles traffic citations, small claims and some civil and criminal cases. Most serious felony cases are handled in Flathead County District Court.
Dumon was responsible for scheduling, budgeting and overseeing court functions such as case management. She answered only to the Justice Court's two judges — Eric Hummel and Paul Sullivan — who placed her on administrative leave on May 18 before firing her on May 24.
Dumon promptly filed a grievance alleging she was wrongfully terminated, but the judges stood by their decision in June. She then appealed to the county commissioners, and she and the judges made their cases during a public hearing on July 12.
DUMON TOLD the commissioners she had been "shocked and confused" to learn of the allegations against her after returning from a vacation in May.
"I've been with Justice Court for 13 years, and over that time I've developed numerous policies and procedures that produced a well-functioning Justice Court," she said, adding that the judges had commended her for doing "a great job" in the weeks before her firing.
"I've never had a writeup or any sort of disciplinary action in my personnel file, ever," she said.
The judges said they conducted an internal investigation after one experienced clerk indicated she planned to quit because of Dumon's behavior, which allegedly involved "targeting" clerks for scrutiny and setting them up for failure.
"We found that the clerks felt they were mocked and ridiculed for their mistakes by Ms. Dumon," Hummel told the commissioners. "She failed to provide constructive criticism. The clerks felt they were being targeted. One was overworked and left. … When we conducted our investigation, several clerks were actively looking to leave employment with Justice Court — approximately half of the current clerks at the time."
Hummel conceded she could be "a demanding supervisor" but said, "I've always tried to give my staff opportunities to grow and succeed in their job, while also allowing them to balance their family lives as well."
THE JUDGES also alleged Dumon had undermined their authority by fixing perceived errors in Hummel's written notes and by telling clerks that she, not the judges, was their ultimate boss.
Hummel said Dumon "had instructed the clerks to report any perceived mistakes I had made to her. This was done without my knowledge or permission or without Judge Sullivan's knowledge or permission."
The substance of the alleged errors that Dumon identified in Hummel's paperwork was not described during the July 12 meeting. Hummel said Judge Sullivan had reviewed the perceived mistakes and "found nothing of substance."
Hummel also accused Dumon of "eye rolling and sighs in response to decisions or comments I'd make." He added, "It was not Ms. Dumon's role to criticize or publicly correct a judge."
Sullivan said clerks didn't feel comfortable raising concerns with the judges until they were questioned as part of the investigation.
"Combining that with the active efforts to undermine Judge Hummel," Sullivan said, "it was clear that there was a power struggle in Justice Court that Judge Hummel and I had not been fully aware of up until that point."
Dumon said she and the judges had discussed Hummel's paperwork errors in multiple previous meetings, and she fixed them to avoid "overburdening the clerks, who always were short on time."
Nate McConnell, the Missoula attorney representing Dumon, told the commissioners: "At each step along the way, Ms. Dumon has maintained that she did not violate any policy as they applied to her interactions with the clerks — and that her handling of Judge Hummel's mistakes actually fulfilled her job duties, specifically her responsibility to coordinate and control the flow of court case work and work processes and procedures among the Justice Court staff."
MCCONNELL ALSO questioned why the judges had not taken any "corrective action" to address their concerns about Dumon before firing her. Dumon also offered to take any steps necessary to get her job back.
"I've always been very passionate about Justice Court. I'll do whatever I can or need to do to correct any issues that have arisen, including attending training or development courses," she said. "I would love to repair my relationship with the court."
But the judges said her behavior had been too egregious.
"We didn't think corrective action would make any change in her undermining my authority," Hummel said.
The commissioners — Randy Brodehl, Pam Holmquist and Brad Abell — reconvened on July 20 and voted to uphold Dumon's termination. Abell recused himself from the vote because he had not been present for the July 12 hearing.
McConnell told the Inter Lake on Thursday, "We are considering filing an action in District Court."
Amy Farrell is serving as Justice Court administrator on an interim basis, according to Tammy Skramovsky, the county's human resources director. The position has a starting salary of about $51,000, and Skramovsky said it's up to the judges "if and when they want to post the position for external applications."
Assistant editor Chad Sokol may be reached at 406-758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.