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MT lawmaker issued contempt order after attending closed court session

Posted at 11:09 AM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 13:09:02-04

GREAT FALLS – A Great Falls House Representative had an order of contempt filed against him earlier this year for sitting in a closed proceeding in Cascade County.

Montana House District 25 Rep. Jeremy Trebas attended the youth in need of care proceedings on February 22.

Trebas said as a legislator he believes it is his responsibility to find out for himself what is happening and how the law is followed in those cases.

“As a legislature, the state government oversees how policies around Child Protective Services is formed and also the funding. There is $75 million in the last biennium that goes towards CPS,” Trebas said.

He added the mother in the case had approached him because she knew he wanted to follow some of the cases.

“She had told me what was going on as far as she could. A lot of what is in those cases is confidential and so is the court hearing,” Trebas said.

According to court documents, the deputy clerk of court noticed there was an unidentified man in the courtroom and made the judge aware of his presence.

Judge Elizabeth Best called Trebas forward so he could identify himself and explain why he was in a closed hearing.

Youth in need of care proceedings are closed due to the protection of the children involved.

Trebas told the judge who he was and that he was a legislator.

“She made a point to say that she was concerned about the separation of the executive and legislative branch. I think she thought I was interfering with that,” Trebas said.

He said he was not there to intervene or say anything on anyone’s behalf but he was there to observe what was happening.

In the order, Best wrote Trebas stated he already read the file, making it seem harmless that he attended the hearing.

Trebas had permission to look at the file in the case and he did so at the Department of Health and Human Services in Helena, although the order states Trebas did not ask the court for permission to attend the hearing.

Ultimately Trebas admitted he knew he was violating the law and court order by sitting in on the proceedings.

“I just wanted some firsthand knowledge of how the system was actually working. You hear a lot of how it is working from the judges, attorneys, and the people involved. You never get firsthand knowledge,” Trebas said.

Trebas said Best informed him that if he would like to attend youth in need of care hearing, all he has to do is ask the judge.

“I learned a lot from that experience and that is what I will do next time,” he said.

Best said if Trebas violates the order of contempt, he will serve jail time.

-Margaret DeMarco reporting for MTN News