Thousands and thousands of tickets. Hundreds of trials and umpteen phone calls that woke her up in the middle of the night. Columbia Falls City Court Judge Susan “Tina” Gordon will say good-bye to it all at the end of the month after 30 years on the bench.
Gordon moved here as a young girl in 1950 when her father, Earl “Shorty” Fish came down to work on the Hungry Horse Dam. After high school in 1962, she went on to higher education, got an associates degree from Flathead Valley Community College in human services and had several different jobs after that, including working for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department as a counselor for a college program. She also worked for several years at KCFW Television, mostly in advertising.
In 1987 she saw a friend in a store who mentioned the city was looking for a judge. Gordon applied and got the job — beating out several other candidates for the post.
She had just had back surgery and was in a body cast on her first day at work.
Still, she “hit the ground running,” hearing cases her very first day with tutelage from a couple of judges from Kalispell. In those early years, she didn’t even have a clerk.
City court only hears misdemeanor cases and other offenses, such as traffic infractions and DUIs.
Still, there have been plenty of interesting cases over the years.
One involved a couple of boys who kept stealing women’s underwear from the Klothes Kloset, a thrift store at the end of Nucleus Avenue. The police would catch them, Gordon would sentence them to jail time, they’d get out and they’d be back at it again.
She recalled another guy police stopped for a DUI who said he was going to the Blue Moon to look for a wife to watch his kids.
But even petty crimes can have life consequences, Gordon noted. A DUI can impact a person’s life for a long time and their ability to find work. Most trials are DUIs she noted. She recalled one case that started at 8 a.m. and went until 10 p.m.
In a court of limited jurisdiction like city court, one doesn’t have to be an attorney or even have a bachelor’s degree to be a judge. Gordon thinks it ought to be that way — what one needs the most is understanding of the law.
She said the state does a good job of educating its municipal judges. She’s gone to a host of classes over the years, including two years of study at the Montana Judicial Institute at the University of Montana and the National Judges College in Reno, Nevada. In addition, she’s attended 60 state schools and 30 national schools and is the chairman for the NJA Foundation and will continue to attend schools at that level.
While she’s worked with some good attorneys over the years, some have been challenging.
“The difference between God and an attorney is that God knows he isn’t an attorney,” she joked.
Over the years she seen a lot of city leaders come and go — five police chiefs, seven mayors and six city managers.
She’s also seen her fair share of repeat offenders — they make the “trifecta” she notes — going from Whitefish to Kalispell to Columbia Falls.
She feels bad for some of them. They don’t have any money and they can’t afford state-mandated treatment.
The paperwork has grown over the years. She said the job couldn’t be done without good clerks.
One year she did 15 trials without a clerk. That couldn’t be done today.
“There’s good clerks and excellent clerks,” she said.
Gordon said she plans on traveling with her husband, Franklin Lundstrom in retirement. She won’t miss the late night phone calls from police to sign a warrant or a restraining order.
But overall, was a gratifying career.
“It’s been a good run,” she said., “A real good run.”