Gayle Doney retires after 23 years as clerk of district court

Charlie Denison

Gayle Doney celebrated her last day as clerk of district court at Fergus County Courthouse Thursday, retiring after 23 years.

Photo by Charlie Denison

 For the last time, Gayle Doney put away the files.

For the last time, she answered the phone at Fergus County Courthouse, saying, “District Court, this is Gayle.”

Doney, a clerk for the past 23 years (and chief deputy clerk for the past 15), is calling it a career, ready to embrace retirement.

“I’m ready to spend more time with my family,” she said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Both of Doney’s son’s have been deployed numerous times, she said, and she wants to be there. She wants to be able to take off, too.

“You start looking around and you realize there are a lot more important things you can spend your time on,” she said. “I know it’s time for me to put family first.”

However, she will be missed.

On Thursday, Clerk of District Court Phyllis Smith put a celebration together for her, decorating the office on the third floor of the courthouse. She also provided coffee, water and pastries to all who came by to say goodbye.

Many did come by, Doney said, and many also sent flowers. Her desk was practically buried in them the last two days.

Looking at the flowers, Doney said she’s grateful, but she knows it’s time to move on.

“The job always came first,” she said. “I missed my oldest son’s wedding, and I regret that. I lived by that court calendar.”


“Time flies…”

Doney said she can’t believe it’s been 23 years since Judge John Christensen hired her in 1994, and it’s amazing to her how much the job has changed through the years.

“When I started, we were still writing juror names on little slips of paper and put them in a plastic capsule, which would go inside a bin that you turn, and that’s how you drew your jury,” she said. “Of course, now we are electronically filing documents and the jury selection is electronic. It’s amazing to think how much has changed. It’s huge.”

There have been many changes to the budget, as well, Doney added.

“When I started, the judge’s budget was $200,” Doney said. “There was no budget for a secretary. I brought my own typewriter. There was no budget for a desk. They made one out of kitchen table legs and a piece of wood. I was in a hallway. You can say things have come a long way.”

The workload has picked up as a result of increased criminal activity. Some of these cases, Doney said, make it hard for her to stay emotionally detached.

“It’s difficult to stay objective when you see people go through some of these hardships,” she said. “It’s been difficult to work with victims, especially women and children.”

This takes strength, Doney said. It’s not an easy job.

“You have to have empathy, think quickly and stay focused,” she said. “You also have to remember – every once in a while – no one started out wanting to be in front of you or in front of a judge. Maintaining that human aspect of the job is important.”


A rewarding position

Doney said the past 23 years have been full of worthwhile moments, be it putting together the self-help law clinic to help people represent themselves or just hearing someone say “thank you.”

“I feel like I made a difference,” she said, “and I feel like people appreciated what I did. Appreciation is a big deal to me. When people have said ‘thank you for your help with my divorce’ or ‘thank you for your help with my child,’ it really means a lot.”

The friendships Doney made along the way also mean a great deal, especially the relationships she developed with her bosses.

“John Christensen, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the best bosses I’ve ever had,” Doney said. “He was a very patient, bright and organized individual. I developed a lot of good habits from him. (Clerk of District Court) Phyllis Smith has also been a pleasure to work with: she’s a great clerk and very professional.”

Having worked in the court for nearly two-and-a-half decades, Doney said the system feels like one big family, and she’s honored to have played a part.

“I’ve always considered law enforcement – whether the sheriff’s office or police department – as part of the court family, and I’ve enjoyed watching them work hard to protect our community. I’m glad to be a part of the court family and a part of this system,” Doney said.

And, although her days at the Montana Tenth Judicial District Court are over, she’ll still do some clerk work, but this time more as a mentor.

“I’m going to help Petroleum County’s new clerk,” Doney said. “Judith Basin County also wants me to do some consulting. I hope to pass on some knowledge.”

But family will most definitely be first.

“I’m excited about my opportunities and my family is very excited for me,” she said. “I get to travel and see kids.”







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