Fifth District Magistrate Judge Jennifer Haemmerle loves going to work every day, even after five years of sitting on the bench.
“I can tell you without hesitancy it’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Haemmerle said during an interview with the Mountain Express on the eve of Election Day.
Haemmerle has been a magistrate judge in Blaine County since 2015, following an interview and selection process by the Fifth Judicial District Magistrates Commission and an 18-month supervision period. Tuesday’s election win—10,583 votes—confirmed her seat on the bench for four more years.
“I don’t think there’s a better place I could have found to be of service than in Blaine County.”
Haemmerle has been in the valley for roughly 27 years now, first working for the Roark Law Firm from 1993-2001 and then in private practice with her husband, former Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle, before applying for her current position in 2014. She beat out eight other applicants to become the county’s sole magistrate judge. As such, she’s seen everything from fatal criminal offenses to domestic disputes and child welfare cases, to adoption cases, creating new families and playing an intimate role in the community.
“It is a privilege to be able to be a part of those moments,” Haemmerle said.
The magistrate court interacts with people on every level of their lives, Haemmerle said. “We are truly cradle to grave,” she said. “It’s not lost of on me that I see people when they’re in conflict, when they’re scared…Going into court is intimidating.”
In 2014, when Haemmerle faced the magistrate commission, she told the members that she was the right person for the job because of her strongest attributes: her head and her heart.
“My head speaks to the fact that there is a lot of law to learn and I don’t really undertake any decision without going back and considering the rule of law that applies,” Haemmerle said.
Beyond just being aware of city, county and state legal codes, Haemmerle also keeps herself abreast of case law and state and national supreme court decisions. Every Sunday, Haemmerle goes into the courthouse to prepare for the following day’s arraignments—the first step in a criminal charge proceeding during which the judge explains the maximum punishments for the charged crime—to review the laws around each charge in each case.
“There’s a really deep body of work that is necessary to know and to know it’s there,” she said.
And the heart?
“The heart is just, boy, you just have to remember everyone comes in with a story, some journey that is bringing them into court—some journeys are horrific, some not so much,” Haemmerle said.
The key, she said, is remaining open-minded and not making assumptions about those journeys. Looking at the whole picture—the whole person—helps Haemmerle to understand their circumstances.
“It’s people’s lives, that’s what it is—it’s people’s lives,” she said—and she takes that responsibility seriously. So, Haemmerle keeps three questions in mind each time she takes the bench before a defendant: “Who are you?” “What are you doing here?” And, “How can we help you move forward?”
“Really, we just want everyone to be safer and better and moving forward,” she said.
Beyond her role in Blaine County, Haemmerle also serves on two Idaho Supreme Court committees—the guardianship and conservatorship committee and the misdemeanor sentencing committee—both geared towards how to protect and help people to move forward from their interactions with the legal system.
For now, Haemmerle has no plans of changing course or leaving the courthouse after her new term begins in January.
“I’m completely satisfied being the Blaine County magistrate,” Haemmerle said. “I love being a magistrate. Sometimes it’s a mess, but human life is mess. That’s the magistrate bench, it is just human life. It’s a huge, huge privilege and I have no plans to move from the bench any time soon.”