Missoula County Attorney asks commissioners to fight DOJ investigation


Missoula County Attorney asks county to fight DOJ investigation

MISSOULA, Mont. - Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg told county officials he wants to challenge the Department of Justice for its ongoing investigation into the way his office handles sexual assault cases.

At a meeting with the Missoula County Commissioners Thursday, Van Valkenburg expressed his frustrations with the investigation that started in May 2012.

Last year the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division reached agreements with the University of Montana and the Missoula Police Department, while the Missoula County Attorney's Office didn't budge.

Van Valkenburg told the commissioners that three weeks ago he received a proposed draft settlement agreement from the DOJ. But he maintains the department still hasn't given his office any specific examples of what they did wrong.

"They actually have, as far as I know, no factual basis," he said.

In the letter, Van Valkenburg said the DOJ wants his office to hire two to three more employees, including an investigator and an in-house crime victims advocate. Van Valkenburg said it would cost the county between $300,000 and $400,000 over a two year time period.

He said the county could spend $50,000 that's been set aside in the budget and hire an attorney on an hourly basis to take the DOJ to court.

"I think we need to sort of prepare for the day when we're going to court with the DOJ."

Van Valkenburg suggested filing a declaratory judgment action with the federal court. It would allow a judge to decide if the DOJ is acting legally in it's investigations and proposals with the Missoula County Attorney's Office.

Van Valkenburg said he's done research to determine if the investigation is legal and that he believes the department doesn't have the authority.

"I do not think the Department of Justice has the legal authority to do this," he said. "And it is a totally unprecedented action on the part of the Department of Justice to seek this kind of a remedy against a local prosecutor's office."

Now, Van Valkenburg said he's going to respond to the letter from the DOJ to let them know his office will not be agreeing to the settlement. From there the county will wait for a reply and decide whether to move forward with the declaratory judgment. 

In the meantime, he expects to receive a separate letter of finding from the DOJ within the next month. Asking his office to either comply with recommendations or face potential lawsuit.

Van Valkenburg told the commissioners he has the support of state officials as well as the National District Attorney's Association.

He hopes to move quickly and resolve the issue before he leaves office in December.

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