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Gianforte bargaining plea agreement with county attorney

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BOZEMAN, Mont. - Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert confirmed with NBC Montana Wednesday that his office is engaging in plea agreement negotiations with attorneys representing Greg Gianforte.

A judge granted Gianforte a two-week extension to appear in Gallatin County Justice Court. He now has until June 20 to appear.

An original deadline of July 7 was set after he was cited for misdemeanor assault after a reporter told police he was body slammed by Gianforte.

Lambert said he's bringing the case against Gianforte. The county attorney wouldn't agree to an on-camera interview but over the phone said Gianforte could not get around facing a judge.

Gianforte agreed to a civil settlement with reporter Ben Jacobs Wednesday evening. Click here for more details.

Our reporters spoke with criminal defense attorney Al Avignone, who couldn't comment on the specifics of Gianforte's case but tells us a settlement is essentially a plea agreement. He says most criminal cases are resolved this way to avoid a trial. Avignone says it's usually in the best interest of the defendant and the prosecutor to do so.

He says the state and the defendant will come to an agreement, but whether or not there is jail time or a fine is ultimately up to a judge.

The attorney says defendants can avoid facing a judge in some rare circumstances.

"With a deferred prosecution agreement the prosecutor agrees to suspend prosecuting that person. The prosecution just comes to a stop. In exchange the defendant agrees to certain conditions such as obeying all laws, not getting into trouble again and perhaps paying fines and penalties," Avignon said.

As far as Gianforte's case, because this is a criminal and not civil case, he is fighting the State of Montana and not the reporter he's accused of assaulting. That means any plea agreement will be between Gianforte's attorneys and the county attorney. The reporter can give input but has no say in how this is resolved.

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