The Montana Supreme Court recently recognized Sheridan resident Diane Kaatz as one of this year’s three most outstanding employees for her dedication to serving Montana’s citizens every day in their contact with the court system.An official ceremony for the Outstanding Employee of the Judicial System will be held in the Supreme Court Courtroom in Helena on Oct. 18 at 1 p.m.
Since 2001 Kaatz has served as court administrator for the Fifth Judicial Circuit under the District Court Judge Loren Tucker. Tucker’s court includes Beaverhead, Jefferson and Madison Counties. Kaatz manages a system to encourage the completion of delinquent probate cases and to coordinate volunteer programs to assist children in need, incapacitated persons and persons responding to mental commitments.
Kaatz’s other duties include scheduling the many cases, conferences and trials that Judge Tucker sees between the three counties, drafting documents and even serving as bailiff.
“I’m not an attorney,” she said of her job. “So there is always a fine line about trying to help people and get them in the right direction, without giving them legal advice but trying to empower them so that they can help themselves.”
Tucker is prohibited from discussing cases without all parties present, so Kaatz is often the first contact people have with the court.
“We get a lot of pro se people, and I think its really important that they feel like they’ve got access to information so that they’re not overwhelmed by the prospect of representing themselves in the court system,” she said.
When she first began there were almost 600 cases in the between the three counties, and now there are more than 1,000. With that kind of a caseload, it’s not easy to keep up with the calendar.
“Just the challenge of scheduling cases when the plan is to go to all three counties every week, but then you’ve got three day trials, four day trials, two day trials, just trying to balance all that to give everybody time to get their business done too,” said Kaatz.
Kaatz credits her award to an excellent working relationship with Tucker, who encourages her to take initiative and think for herself
“It’s nice because he always is very appreciative, so that makes you want to do a better job when you get positive feedback,” she said.
When asked if her job ever feels a little hectic, Kaatz laughed.
“I’m just here to make his job a little easier, I guess.”