Longtime clerk has led tech quest for court system

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Peg Allison, Flathead County Clerk of District Court, at the Flathead County Justice Center on June 21. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

It’s not always easy being out in front of the pack, but for Peg Allison, the Flathead County Clerk of Court, her forward-thinking has paid big dividends for her staff and the residents of Flathead County and Montana.

The 64-year-old Montana native grew up in Glendive before earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration at Montana State University Billings. An accomplished pianist, Allison started her college studies in music before her dad gently suggested she might do better in another major.

After graduation, she moved to the Flathead Valley, where she was a stay-at-home mom to the two daughters she had with her first husband, Sid Bitney, the owner of Bitney’s Furniture. After spending a few years in Great Falls and one in Billings, she returned to the Flathead and needed a job.

She applied to work in the Clerk of Court office and her predecessor, John Van, hired Allison in 1985. When Van retired in 1992, Allison was elected to the position, one she has held for 26 years.

“I’ve always loved the process of what we do,” Allison said. “It’s been a really good position for me.”

Allison said a large part of what she enjoys about her work is working in a professional setting with educated and intelligent people.

“We work with attorneys, judges, Supreme Court justices, commissioners, a lot of smart and motivated people and that’s very enjoyable,” Allison said.

Soon after her election, Allison had her deputy clerks begin the process of entering court documents into a computer system Van had bought.

“John was very proud that he had bought the computers,” Allison recalled. “It took us two to three years to get everything from January 1990 into the program, so court documents for Flathead County are accessible in our system from then.”

She also asked the county’s Information Technology Department to develop a child support program and the state of Montana quickly moved to utilize it to track those who are required to make payments.

A year later Allison went back to the IT Department and asked its staff to write a computerized jury program that drastically reduced the time it took to choose a list of county residents from which a jury would eventually be selected. It was another program the state of Montana soon utilized.

In 2008, Allison went back to the IT Department once again, seeking an online submission program for marriage applications.

“It made the process very convenient for everyone,” Allison said. Instead of spending 20 to 25 minutes on a couple’s application, it now only takes 5 or 6 minutes.”

In 2018, the county also piloted Montana’s new online case management system.

A year ago, Allison asked the county’s IT staff to develop an online jury questionnaire submission software program. They delivered the program and the county began using it this year, making it the first in Montana.

The county sends out 5,500 jury duty notices every six months for Flathead County District Court jury trials. The ability to do it electronically saves the county a lot of money.

“They wrote it so I can manage it,” Allison said. “I am very appreciative of our IT Department for their work over the years. They are worth every penny.”

Effective March 4 this year, the 11th Judicial District Court became an electronic filing court in an effort to save time and money as the department moves away from using paper. Pro se litigants are unable to use it just yet and some pieces are still being designed, according to Allison.

“I’m very proud of the advancements in technology I’ve been able to make,” she said. “They say necessity is the mother of invention. We have a limited budget and staff and the county’s population has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, so we had to become more efficient and we have.

“There were naysayers about using technology when I first started to implement it, but we use technology in so many different ways in our everyday lives,” Allison said. “It only makes sense to do it.”

When Allison isn’t working, she, like so many other Montanans, she loves being outdoors, hiking, hunting and fishing and shooting.

Allison claimed a Montana Stock Gun Championship title in 1996 and has taught shooting skills to women.

“I tell them when you are in trouble, you should have a phone in one hand and a gun in the other,” she said.

Allison’s current term ends next year and she said she will run for another four-year term. She is a current member of the state’s Commission on Technology and the current chair of the District Court Automation Committee.

“I am very appreciative of the citizens of Flathead County for allowing me the privilege of serving as the Clerk of District Court,” Allison said.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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