Notes from Missoula County District Court

The trial against Jordan Johnson began this week and continues into
next week in Missoula County District Court. Reporter Gwen Florio has been covering the rape case for the Missoulian, and I have been
sending tweets from @missoulian. The hashtag is #johnsontrial.

Here’s a link to today’s story and our live coverage. And here’s some more observations from the courtroom.

1. The Judge

On the first day, Judge Karen Townsend told the crowd she will have
the courtroom all rise as the jury enters. So that’s standard
procedure in the course of a day as the jurors walk into the room in
the morning or after a recess. The gesture lends a measure of respect for justice and for the people who will ultimately decide this case.

Townsend appears to be quiet but firm with the lawyers, who are
raising many objections along the way, specifically about evidence
such as texts or instant messages. At one point, defense lawyer David Paoli repeatedly tried to ask a witness about one such item, and Judge Townsend repeatedly held him back but in a respectful way. The first time Adam Duerk for the prosecution raised an objection and the judge agreed with him, he thanked her. She said, “You don’t need to thank me.”

The movie stereotype of the old judge falling asleep on the bench is
totally out the window. Judge Townsend at times has to consider
whether to allow the witness to answer a particular question, and
sometimes, she tells the person to answer “only yes or no.” Other
times, she has to guide the lawyer to establish more “foundation” for a certain line of questioning.

The lawyers are approaching her frequently during questioning to
discuss matters the rest of the courtroom can’t overhear.

2. The Lawyers

The lawyers are skilled, of course, but they have different styles in the courtroom. Prosecutor Joel Thompson is methodical and precise when he questions the witnesses and when he redirects. He speaks mostly to the person on the stand. Defense lawyer David Paoli has a more dramatic flair. Sometimes, he faces the jury when he asks a question of the witness. Yesterday as he quizzed a witness, he marched to the prosecution’s desk and raised his voice to the other
lawyer. The approach prompted Thompson to say something like, “I’m not on the stand.”

3. The Jury

I believe a rapport among jurors solidified yesterday. We reporters
sit mostly in the front row, and the jurors walk past us every time.
Yesterday, in the afternoon, there was something more loose and light about the way they entered the room. There was an ease among them. I wonder if that sense will change along the way again as they discuss the case.

4. The Crowd

Many lawyers and law students are dropping in to watch the trial
because it isn’t often a case of this magnitude gets tried in
Missoula. Reporters are mostly in the front row facing the witness
stand. Sometimes, when testimony gets emotional, you can hear someone crying in the back, but it’s of course mostly quiet. A deputy asks people to turn off their cell phones as they walk into the room, but a couple times, people’s phones have rung while the court is in session.

The trial continues today.

– Keila Szpaller

Reading Missoula’s Climate Action Plan

Here’s what I want to do on Fridays for a while, but let me know if you think this is crazy.

I want to spend a couple minutes reading a little piece of the Conservation and Climate Action Plan of the city of Missoula.

Then, I’ll share something here. Good? Newsworthy? Wonderful?

Today, we start on page 2 with the introductory letter from the “Mayor’s Climate Action Plan Task Force.”

It tells us reasons Missoula is awesome, with ”easy access to rivers, mountains, and open spaces … and vibrant local businesses, sporting events, outdoor concerts, farmer’s markets … “

Walking paths! With beautiful views! Like the one in the picture. I took it from the railroad trail in my neighborhood.

“Some say it’s something intangible – the quality of life in Missoula that’s pretty darned exceptional.”

Amen, and heck yeah.

“Because we believe our city is unique, we want to help craft good decisions that will protect it for the long term.”

So begins the document of 87 pages unanimously approved by the Missoula City Council.

Next up in the plan? A letter from Mayor John Engen, who pulled the group together.

TGIF, and more later.

Oh, bonus information: The city of Missoula has a new website! It’s still getting loaded, but it looks pretty cool. Check it out here.

– Keila Szpaller

And if you support ADUs, or granny suites?

ADU opponents in Missoula have started a petition drive, and here’s that story.

I got a question on Twitter this morning about whether supporters are getting postcards, too.

Only if their friends are in exotic places, I’m afraid.

Register support or opposition to granny suites, or accessory dwelling units, by sending an email to the full council.

That’s council@ci.missoula.mt.us.

– Keila Szpaller