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New Box Butte County clerk magistrate says she is ’up to the challenge

July 13, 2018 GMT

ALLIANCE — Officials with the 12th Judicial District and the Nebraska court system welcomed a clerk magistrate to oversee the Box Butte County Court Monday.

Joni Roberts will serve as the clerk magistrate for the county court, based in Alliance. In Nebraska, clerk magistrates can preside over proceedings in the absence of a judge but most importantly, oversee the county court’s probate court, in addition to heading up the court’s operations.

“I am highly excited about this position,” Roberts said.

A lot of activity happens in county courts — juvenile court proceedings, traffic and criminal court, probate cases and more — and Roberts, who doesn’t have any prior court experience, knows she has a lot to learn.

“I am up to the challenge, though,” she said.

Through previous positions, Roberts has a familiarity with the court system and is even familiar with Judge Paul Wess, the presiding judge in Box Butte County Court, having known him since he was a public defender in Dawes County.

Most of Roberts’ experiences have been in the social services system. She most recently served as an economic assistance benefits specialist for the South Dakota Department of Social Services in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. She worked directly on the reservation, determining the eligibility of clients for the SNAP (food stamps), TANF (aid to needy families for the support of children) and Medicaid programs. She served in that position for six years, traveling to South Dakota from her family’s home in Chadron.

Roberts also worked for one year as a child protection supervisor in the state of South Dakota in the Hot Springs area. She served a previous stint with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services as a child and family services specialist overseeing, at the time, the communities of Dawes, Sheridan, Sioux, Box Butte, Morrill and Garden counties.

Roberts hadn’t been looking for a new position. “I loved my job,” she said, and hadn’t considered a new job until a friend texted her and asked if she was going to apply for the clerk magistrate position. The position had been open and re-opened after a previous candidate didn’t end up filling the position.

Roberts and her husband, Scott, also own Roberts Electric, based in Chadron. Roberts will continue to travel from Chadron, as she has done throughout her decades living in the community with her husband and their four children.

“We’ve raised all of our kids there,” she said, “It is a good community for us.”

Roberts hails originally from Valentine, having moved to Chadron to attend college as a single mother. She met her husband there and they have been married for 27 years.

A fresh start for Roberts began last month, when she started on June 11 in her new post. Since then, she has been in learning mode. The Box Butte County Court has other staff — a record clerk who will oversee the docket and recording of proceedings; an assistant clerk who will share a lot of duties with Roberts, including filing and entering those into the computer. Roberts will concentrate on the area of guardianships, conservatorships and other probate court functions.

Other positions throughout her years should also lend well to the position, Roberts said. She managed two college bookstores, so she expects she’ll be able to handle the financial duties of her position well. She has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s in mental health counseling, which she thinks will be useful in dealing with people.

Roberts will have lots of help along the way as well. She said that Scotts Bluff County Clerk Magistrate Dianne Lana will serve as her mentor. Lana previously received the Nebraska court systems Outstanding Customer Service Award in 2014.