Thursday, June 12, 2014

Feds back off attempt to manage Missoula prosector in relation to sexual assault cases

Martin Kaste reported a few days ago on NPR under the headline, "In a Standoff with Montana Officials, the Justice Department Blinks."  Here's the lede:
The Justice Department announced Tuesday it has resolved a two-year-old standoff with the county attorney in Missoula, Mont., in what was originally a dispute over accusations that local prosecutors weren't doing enough to prosecute rape cases. 
Over time, however, the issue turned into something else: a test of the Feds' power to impose reform on local prosecutors. And on that, it looks like the Missoula county attorney has prevailed –- on a technicality.
According to Kaste, County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg defied the Justice Department, which was threatening a lawsuit.  Apparently, that's rarely a local official's response.  Van Valkenberg "accused the Feds of "overreaching" and exaggerating the problems. He challenged their right to pressure an elected prosecutor in such a fashion and sued them in federal court."
Similarly, Van Valkenberg demanded that Justice support its case that his prosecutors didn't take rape cases seriously enough. He asserted that the DOJ acted imperiously toward him, and defamed his staff of prosecutors, many of whom are women.
Kaste quotes Van Valkenberg from his news conference on Tuesday:  
They never once reached out – never once in two years – reached out to work cooperatively with me in this matter.
In the agreement signed between the county and the U.S. D o J, the county agrees that it must, among other things, develop new policies for handling sexual assault cases.  But those reforms will be managed by the Montana attorney general, not the U.S. Department of Justice.
In the memorandum of understanding, the county attorney and the state reaffirm their belief that the DOJ has no authority over elected county attorneys.

No comments: