U.S. Rep.-elect Greg Gianforte was fined $300 and given a six-month deferred sentence Monday for assaulting a reporter on the eve of his election last month – and, in court, turned to personally apologize to the reporter, Ben Jacobs of the Guardian.
Gallatin County Justice of the Peace Mark West also ordered Gianforte to perform 40 hours of community service and do a 20-hour anger-management class.
After the 45-minute hearing in the tiny, basement courtroom in Bozeman, Gianforte spoke briefly with reporters and said he’s taken responsibility for his actions on May 24 and is ready to “move forward” with the job of representing Montana.
Shortly before the sentence, Gianforte pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for attacking Jacobs, who had been covering Montana’s special congressional race among Gianforte, Democrat Rob Quist and Libertarian Mark Wicks.
Gianforte, 56, a software entrepreneur from Bozeman, won the election with a shade over 50 percent of the vote. Quist had 44 percent and Wicks 6 percent.
Jacobs, who sat in the courtroom with his father, also testified at the hearing, saying that Gianforte “slammed” him to the ground and started punching him, after Jacobs had questioned Gianforte about the Republican health-care bill before Congress.
The assault occurred at a campaign event in Bozeman on the evening before the May 25 election.
Jacobs said he was just “doing my job” when Gianforte attacked him, injuring his elbow and breaking his glasses, and “thrusting me into a national spotlight I did not seek.”
But he also said he had accepted Gianforte’s written apology, made last week, and the candidate’s statements in support of a free press.
“I fully expect his thoughtful words to be followed by concrete actions once he’s taken his seat in Congress,” Jacobs said.
As part of a settlement with Jacobs, Gianforte also made a $50,000 donation to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a group that advocates for press freedom and the safety of journalists.
Before announcing the sentence, West noted that Gianforte had no criminal record and has made many contributions to the community, but that his actions were “totally unacceptable.”
West initially sentenced Gianforte to four days in jail and said he could offset the jail time through participating in a county work program.
But when the judge was informed by other court personnel that someone guilty of assault is ineligible for the work program, West decided to defer Gianforte’s entire six-month sentence and impose the community service and anger-management classes instead.
Gianforte won’t spend any time in jail and, if he commits no other infractions during the six months, his record will be cleared. Gianforte also must pay $85 in court costs.
Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert recommended the deferred sentence and a maximum $500 fine, but West said he wouldn’t usually impose a maximum fine for a first-time offense.
Gianforte is expected to be sworn in as Montana’s only congressman later this month, after state election officials certify the election results this week.