At a press conference in Missoula on Tuesday, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox announced an agreement resolving a two-year dispute between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Missoula County Attorney's office.

In the agreement, the county attorney's office agrees to enter into a contract with an expert "technical advisor".

The Montana Attorney General agrees to enter into contract with Anne Munch Consulting, Inc. (hereafter the “Technical Advisor”) for a total amount including fees, costs and expenses not to exceed $150,000. The Technical Advisor shall assist with training attorneys in the Montana Department of Justice Prosecution Services Bureau and the MCAO’s supervisors to standards acceptable to the Montana Attorney General regarding the proper handling of sexual assault cases, and to assist the Montana Attorney General with the assessment of the MCAO’s performance under this Agreement.

In addition, Department of Justice representative Jocelyn Samuels  outlined several steps the county attorney's office will take to address gender bias, and to restore community confidence in the criminal justice system.

"These steps include special training for prosecutors in sexual assault policies, improving treatment of individuals who report sexual assaults, using techniques that have been shown to result in better sexual assault investigations, hiring an in-house victim coordinator, improving communications with other stakeholders including the City of Missoula, the police department and the University of Montana Police Department, and to improve tracking and sharing of data regarding sexual assault prosecutions," Samuels said.

DOJ representative Jocelyn Samuels

Before the press conference, Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg told Missoula County Commissioners that the agreement does not mean his office admits to any wrongdoing in its investigations of sexual assaults.

"We do not admit that there have been any civil rights violations," Van Valkenburg said. "We continue to maintain that the Department of Justice has no authority to investigate our office, or to pursue such claims. But, in order to advance a settlement, the U.S. DOJ is giving up its right to pursue any claims that it thinks that it has, and in return, the Missoula County Attorney's office agrees to dismiss its declaratory judgment action that it has pending in court right now."

During a question and answer session following the prepared remarks, Attorney General Tim Fox was asked what took him so long to get involved the the dispute between the DOJ and the Missoula County Attorney.

"I can tell you that this first appeared on my radar screen earlier this year," Fox said. "First because of the declaratory judgment action that the county attorney's office filed, and through the correspondence between the various parties, including the Missoula County Commissioners. I felt it was just time for the Attorney General's office to commit its full resources to find a full and equitable solution that will re-instill the confidence of the people of Missoula County in their public officials. All of us standing here today share the mutual goal of public safety, and that's ultimately what got us to 'yes'."

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox

Fred van Valkenburg
photo by Peter Christian

Van Valkenburg was asked if he was willing to let bygones be bygones with the Department of Justice, especially after the DOJ leveled serious charges of gender bias against his staff in a February 14 news release. Van Valkenburg was not shy in answering the question.

"What the Department of Justice did here was not something that you could just let bygones be bygones," Van Valkenburg fired back. "They were extremely unfair in how they approached this matter. The letter that Ms. Samuels issued on February 14th was the single most unprofessional thing I've seen in the practice of law in 41 years. It hurts, hugely, to have my staff defamed. I can't tell you the number of sleepless nights I've had thinking about how this all happened. Why did the U.S. Department of Justice do what they did here that so totally unfair? They've never done this to any prosecutor in the United States. So, standing up to the Department of Justice was something that was very important to do with respect for every prosecuting attorney's office in the United States."

"The letter that Ms. Samuels issued on February 14th was the single most unprofessional thing I've seen in the practice of law in 41 years."

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg

The cost to the county for complying with the agreement will be approximately $210,000 over a two year period.

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