Ex-Hill County Attorney sentenced for contempt of court

Posted at 8:20 AM, Aug 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-08 10:20:22-04

Former Hill County Attorney Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson was sentenced on Tuesday to six days of house arrest and ordered to pay a $1,500 fine for three counts of contempt of court.

The Havre Heraldreports that Justice of the Peace Judge Audrey Barger decided the best route — for taxpayers and Cole-Hodgkinson’s safety — was to impose six days of house arrest, during which she would wear a tracking bracelet. She also fined the former prosecutor $1,500 and barred her from practicing law in her court for a year, unless she was representing herself.  

Cole-Hodgkinson, who “respectfully” told the judge that she disagrees with her take on the law, is appealing the sentence and her fine. Barger gave her 30 days to appeal. The appeal will go to District Court, where it will be up to Judge Daniel Boucher.

Boucher had also ordered Cole-Hodgkinson to appear in his court for missing deadlines and hearings before he vacated the show cause hearings in his court Wednesday. He had declined to comment on why.

Cole-Hodgkinson’s 19-month tenure as county attorney was rife with controversy and the fodder of much bad publicity. Her official resignation was effective July 30. According to the Voluntary Resignation Agreement between her and the county commissioners, obtained by The Havre Herald on Friday, she received over $49,000 — through the duration of her term Dec. 31 — to resign. The agreement says Cole-Hodgkinson and county officials had a falling out and the agreement’s purpose was to “induce” her to resign.

The purpose of Tuesday’s hearing, Barger repeatedly emphasized, essentially came down to her absence:

“The reason this is an issue in this court is because you didn’t show up,” Barger said. There was no excuse, she would say later, why those hearings shouldn’t have happened. Cole-Hodgkinson could’ve arranged for a replacement prosecutor or filed for a continuance, but she didn’t. Not knowing is not an excuse. 

Cole-Hodgkinson did not show up to hearings July 16, 18 and 25. Then-Deputy Attorney Karen Alley — who has since been sworn in as the new county attorney — could not prosecute in the hearings because of a conflict of interest related her time at the Regional Office of Public Defender.

You can read the complete story – and hear extended audio from the hearing – at The Havre Herald.

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