Pillar of the Teton County Courts retires after 33 years
DRIGGS — Phyllis Hansen has probably seen it all in Teton County.
On Friday, March 26, Hansen will retire as the court clerk after serving more than 30 years witnessing the sometimes dramatic, often emotional and unending cycle of justice in a small community.
“I’ve seen people turn their lives around and I’ve seen people destroy their lives,” said Hansen, reflecting matter-of-factly on her work behind the plexiglass on the third floor of the Teton County Courthouse. “There was always just a tremendous amount of satisfaction in doing this job. I believe we’ve made a difference in people’s lives.”
Hansen is one of the longest-serving county employees in Teton County, a testament to not only her dedication to the work but her ability to navigate the ever-changing political hallways that can define small-town governments.
“Phyllis has seen it all in her 33 years with Teton County,” said Teton County Commission Chair Cindy Riegel. “Her dedication to public service and Teton County’s court system has not wavered. She has often been the only employee in the courthouse during winter storms and on Christmas Eve when everyone else has gone home because “the courts can’t close!”
Hansen was just shy of completing her teaching degree when a position in the court clerk’s office opened up in the old courthouse along Main Street in Driggs 33 years ago. Her children were 4, 6, 8 and 10 years old at the time and she took court minutes by hand. She said she felt “uptown” with an electric typewriter at her desk and then came a copy machine to replace the carbon paper. Computers would be later and Hansen navigated three online programs including the new state court system, Odyssey, which rolled out only two years ago.
As a young clerk, finding balance with her work and home was the first big lesson. She said she learned quickly, and the hard way, that maintaining separation between court clients and her home life would be important for maintaining longevity in her career.
“I learned early that I needed to try and stay really detached from the situations that came through the courts,” Hansen said. “I know people think I’m an unfeeling bitch, but I learned quickly to stay very detached and serve people the best way that I could through the office.”
Hansen said she never did have a favorite judge while serving both the district and magistrate courts, but came to respect the unique and difficult work that each performed from the bench.
“The judges that we have had, have deeply and truly cared about the defendants and their success,” she said. “I have been really, really, really lucky to work with the best judges in the district and believe me, they have followed the law.”
The respect was mutual for many.
“For all the 30 years that I have known Phyllis, I have known her as an honest and educated public servant,” said Idaho Supreme Court Justice Gregory Moeller. Moeller first met Hansen while serving 19 years as an attorney in Madison County. He said one of his highlights as a district court judge in eastern Idaho was working closely with Hansen.
“She was so committed to doing things the right way that she was fearless in addressing her concerns when things were not going the right way,” Moeller added. “Her heart was always in the right place and she was fearless in her dedication to making sure the work got done right.”
Hansen admitted that there were court events that could still surprise her, referencing the murder trial of Erik Ohlson as one such case that broke the valley’s heart.
“And I have always been amazed at the hurt that divorcing parents will inflict on their children to get back at each other,” Hansen added.
As for life after court, she said she plans on serving as a CASA, a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children navigating the court systems. She would also like to go back to Brigham Young University-Idaho and finish her teaching degree of which she only needed 17 more hours of instruction. From there, she plans on applying to substitute teach in the local schools. She would also like to run a 10K this year after completing two 5Ks last year after she turned 70.
A farewell is planned for Friday, March 26 starting at 3 p.m. downstairs in the commissioner’s room of the Teton County Courthouse. All are invited to wish Hansen well and light refreshments will be served. Written memories and pictures may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to 150 Courthouse Drive, Driggs Idaho 83422.