Patty Netherton, Municipal Court Administrator
Patty Netherton walks up to a woman with a stroller in the courtroom and leans down to greet the toddler with a smile. “Would she like something to eat?” she whispers to her mother. At the mother’s nod, she leaves the courtroom briefly and returns with a small bag of Cheeze-Its.
Netherton, court administrator for Municipal Court, greets everyone by name as they quietly enter the courtroom. Some carry hefty backpacks. One man has a dog on a leash. Another is wearing shorts – in January. This is the one Thursday a month that Municipal Court at 215 N. Mason is in Special Agency Session – a court session that finds compassionate ways to address low-level violations committed by people experiencing homelessness or other service needs.
Special Agency Sessions pull together Municipal Judge Kathleen Lane, court staff, police, non-profit organizations, homeless shelters and a specialist in the City’s Social Sustainability department to find alternative solutions in lieu of fines or jail time. Since its inception in 2014, the program has helped 142 people connect with community services and basic needs, such as housing. Of those, 55 people have completed the program – a 39 percent completion rate. Only three people had new violations in the time they were going through the program.
“We all come from different backgrounds and different experiences, and when people come into court, sometimes this is the first experience they’ve ever had with court,” said Netherton, whose staff handles about 30,000 cases a year - everything from traffic and camera radar/ red-light tickets to public nuisance, parking, snow removal and animal-at-large violations in addition to Special Agency Sessions.
“It’s part of my job to treat people not just respectfully, but also with some empathy and compassion for what they’re going through,” she said. “A traffic accident can happen to anyone. Mistakes happen.”
Netherton has personal experience with struggling with a paycheck. Early in their marriage, she and her husband and their two young children spent a Christmas couch surfing because they were unemployed. She also put off getting her degree to raise her family, so she is currently pursuing a criminal justice degree, which is a lifelong dream.
In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering with the City’s United Way campaign and hobbies that include American tribal belly dancing and collecting gemstones.
She also gets the importance of public service– her dad was a California Highway Patrol officer, her mom an employee at Sacramento County. Netherton started at the City of Fort Collins in 1999 as a camera-radar clerk before a promotion to deputy court clerk and later court administrator.
And to think she was once the bridal supervisor for Macy’s in California before her husband accepted a job in Fort Collins at HP. Netherton points out her Macy’s job was really similar work: “It’s dealing with the public and with people in a stressful time.”
In 2016, the court addressed over 28,000 cases - 16,700 red-light camera violations and 11,700 general cases. In 2015, court handled 28,000 cases equally split between red-light and general violations. The Court’s caseload trends relate directly to enforcement activity, Netherton explained.
Cases are getting more complex, Netherton said, particularly with a change in state law that allows court-appointed counsel for anyone facing misdemeanor charges. Previously, such counsel was appointed only in cases that involved possible jail time. The change means a lot more steps for her three full-time and seven part-time employees, largely working closely with people who come into court.
“It’s all about people,” she said.