In an interview with MTN News on Saturday, Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter responded to a letter from three District Court judges about a recent incident involving mask-wearing in court.
Eighth District Court Judges Elizabeth Best, John Kutzman and John Parker sent the letter to MTN News on Friday. They expressed frustration with Slaughter's public comments after a substitute judge from Missoula found a Great Falls man, Philip Dupaul, who was serving as a juror, in contempt of court last week for refusing to wear a face covering in court. The Missoula judge ordered Dupaul to spend 24 hours in the Cascade County jail, where COVID-19 cases have been climbing.
After the incident, Slaughter told MTN News he disagreed with the subsitute judge's order. He said it was "contentious, to say the least." He claimed he had reached an agreement with local judges about not arresting and detaining citizens for non-compliance with mask orders.
The letter signed by the judges says Slaughter misunderstood them. The judges say they "did not tell him they would allow potential jurors and other court attendees to opt out of wearing masks" and that although they preferred not to send otherwise law-abiding people to jail for non-compliance, they would do so if it came to that.
Slaughter said he had a different understanding of the judges' stance, based on some of their previous court orders, which he said indicated they would take alternative means to ensure they weren't arresting people for not wearing masks in court. On Saturday, he said he takes his constitutional responsibility to carry out their orders seriously, even when he doesn't agree with them.
"I have the highest respect for the Eighth District Court judges," Slaughter said. "I consider some of them friends and colleagues, and what happens in their court is completely their jurisdiction, and I respect that and I honor that."
He said he will continue to carry out their orders, but it doesn't mean he won't disagree with them in the future.
"I just want to make sure that the public understood that I didn't agree necessarily with that one decision," Slaughter said.