Commissioners respond to DOJ, co. atty. waits for federal case reply


MISSOULA, Mont. - Missoula's County Attorney says the U.S. Department of Justice is trying to drive a wedge between him and the Missoula County Commissioners.

It's the latest in the ongoing battle between County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg and the feds over the way Van Valkenburg's office handles sexual assault cases.

At a public meeting Wednesday, commissioners signed a letter telling the DOJ they don't have any authority over the Missoula County Attorney's Office.

The response from the commissioners comes after Montana U.S. Attorney Michael Cotter asked them to step in and get Van Valkenburg to come to an agreement. But Van Valkenburg won't budge and commissioners say they can't do anything.

"I think it was mostly an attempt to drive a wedge between me and commissioners," Van Valkenburg said at the meeting.

Van Valkenburg said instead of answering a letter he wrote to the DOJ telling the department he didn't intend to agree to its proposed settlement, the feds released a report with allegations of how his office mishandled sexual assault cases.

"It's a political action on their part and I think it's wrong," he said.

Van Valkenburg said the DOJ also isn't replying to a complaint he filed in federal court. It asks a judge to decide whether the feds can legally investigate the county attorney's office. Instead he said Cotter sent a letter to commissioners asking them to step in.

"They're doing everything they can to avoid facing the real issue and that is that they have the authority to bring this lawsuit," Van Valkenburg said.

But the commission made it clear they can't make Van Valkenburg agree to anything.

"The county attorney has the legal standing to litigate, we do not," said County Commissioner Chair Jean Curtiss. "The attorney general has supervisory powers we do not".

In their letter commissioners also included a list of steps the county's already taking to provide services to victims, like funding for Missoula County's Crime Victim Advocate Office, continued training for the Missoula County Attorney's Office, and an agreement between the Missoula Police Department and the County Attorney's Office to work cases together.

That support from commissioners proved that if the DOJ was trying to force a wedge it didn't work.

Cotter and the DOJ Office of Public Affairs did not offer any comment regarding the Missoula County Commissioners' response.

Meanwhile Van Valkenburg is still waiting for a response to his case in federal court.

The feds have until next month to file a reply.

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