Missoula County Coverage

Jan 8, 2014 7:35 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

Van Valkenburg to discuss next steps in DOJ fight

MISSOULA - Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg is ready to discuss the county's next steps in that fight with the Department of Justice over its investigation of Missoula rape cases.

Although that could involve spending thousands of dollars, Van Valkenburg says filing a preemptive legal action may be the most "efficient" way to resolve the dispute.

Van Valkenburg is scheduled to meet with county commissioners again Thursday to discuss what happens next in the dispute with DOJ over the lengthy investigation which was launched more than 18 months ago.

Van Valkenburg told commissioners last week that the DOJ had offered the county a settlement, but one providing no financial help to comply. He estimates that could cost the county as much as $400,000.

Instead, he's suggesting the county reject the settlement, and file it's own suit in federal court challenging the DOJ's jurisdiction. The county would spend %50,000 already set aside to hire a Missoula law firm to prepare the case.

"It's a tough road to spend any money on something that doesn't really produce a service for the citizens of Missoula. And the only service that's really being provided is that you're potentially saving money from down the road, down the future," Van Valkenburg said.

"But sometimes you're just called upon to have to do something that you might not otherwise want to do because it's the right thing to do. And I really think in this case it's not only the right thing for this community because we're going to save some money and we're going to stand up for what's right, but we're doing it for the rest of the entire country," he added.

That's the key question of whether the federal government can override the long-standing doctrine of "prosecutorial immunity", the provision making county prosecutors and attorneys immune from facing civil lawsuits.

Van Valkenburg believes the suit in federal court could resolve that question, his primary objection since the investigation started.

"It definitely resolves the issue of what I have been most concerned about as to whether the DOJ has authority to do this or not and whether the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity would prohibit them from even pursuing anything."

"It doesn't really get to the substantive issues if they actually have any, where people have supposedly had their constitutional rights violated. But if they win, if the feds were to win the declaratory judgment action then we would proceed to those substantive issues," Van Valkenburg said.

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