Prosecutors in Bozeman want a different judge to hear their case against an accused rapist who escaped from a police interview room. County Attorney Marty Lambert filed a motion for substitution of judge in the Kevin Briggs case, meaning he is asking for Judge Holly Brown to be taken off the case.
We found out the motion is controversial, and has even reached the Montana Supreme Court.
The Montana Judges Association wants to make it more difficult for this to happen in district courts. They claim some attorneys are abusing it.
The Judges Association has proposed raising the fee from $100 to $500. They also are suggesting reducing the time allowed to file the motion, from 30 days to just 10. They are also trying to say you cannot use this motion in certain time sensitive cases like sanity or abuse and neglect cases.
We spoke to the President of the Montana Judges Association, Russell Fagg, who says they began their petition to the Montana Supreme Court in late 2013. It is a rule that has been in place since the turn of the century here in Montana.
"Particularly in the Butte and Anaconda area, there was actually some rumblings of bribes and those sorts of things occurring so there was substitution rule put in for district judges only," said Fagg.
In 2014 that rule still stands, but Fagg explains the Montana Judges Association is working to change that.
"Well it is a problem across the state, particularly with rural districts where judges get substituted and have to call somebody in from sometimes 100 miles away," said Fagg.
The most recent example he could give me was a few years back.
"We have had a specific run of substitutions over in the Missoula area," said Fagg.
We looked into this and found the AP reports some public defenders were requesting substitutions for cases originally signed to District Judge John Larson. Then the cases were being sent to courts outside Missoula County, creating a hardship for poorer clients. He says this happens statewide.
"I suspect substitutions occur in every district, including the Bozeman district," said Fagg.
One of those substitutions happened just this week -- in the case of the State of Montana versus Kevin Briggs.
"The rule that I used is being subject to review now there are changes that have been proposed by Montana's District Judges," said Lambert.
County Attorney Marty Lambert acknowledges this petition, but other than that is not saying much.
"I have chosen to do that, in this case, on behalf of the State of Montana. No reason has to be given," said Lambert.
If the Montana Judges Association has it their way it will be harder for him to file this motion the next time around. We continued to ask Lambert for any sort of comment on why he asked for the motion to substitute on the Briggs case, but he is not giving a reason, and does not have to by law.
As for any potential changes to the motion of substitution of judge, we are told they are currently in the comment phase of the petition and will be taking a closer look at it in the next month or two. There is no timeline on the process to find another district judge to replace Holly Brown.
In the meantime, Lambert says he's looking over requests from the police department to charge five people who may have helped Briggs while he was on the run. He says they could each face a felony charge of obstructing justice, one of those people could also get charged with tampering with evidence. However as of Wednesday evening, there was still no word on if or when those charges will be filed.