by Travis Mateer
When I wrote about the settlement Missoula County was recently forced to pay the Sheriff’s Office, the amount was $3.4 million. Two days after my article posted, that amount got bumped up a half million dollars, and the full amount heading toward the Sheriff’s Office just got GOB’d (General Obligation Bond). From the link:
The Missoula County commissioners authorized a general obligation bond of approximately $4 million Tuesday morning to cover the costs of unpaid sheriff’s deputy wages.
The commissioners settled a lawsuit in early June centered on three years of unpaid wages owed to Missoula County Sheriff deputies because of the county’s failure to calculate the sheriff’s parity pay and certification pay in the deputies’ wages.
The county originally settled the lawsuit for $3.45 million, but additional costs have piled up around the deputies’ benefits.
An additional approximately $400,000 will also come out of the county risk fund to cover interest on the wage claims.
For Missoula County residents, the 5-year bond will result in a payment of $2.83 per $100,000 of taxable value in the bond’s first year, followed by $3.18 per $100,000 for the next four years.
One of the aspects of this case that I find curious is the political dynamic at play. The Sheriff’s Office is currently headed by T.J. McDermott, who ran his problem-plagued campaigns as a Democrat with the help of Westridge Creative, and all the County Commissioners are Democrats, I believe. But clearly, according to the reporting, there are some negative feelings surrounding this settlement between the Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office.
Generally speaking, one can usually place law enforcement on the conservative side of the political spectrum. When I took a look at the political donations of Rob Bell, of Reep Bell & Jasper, that seems to be born out with donations going to conservatives like Attorney General, Austin Knudsen.
In the post I linked to at the top of this article, I reference how another partner of this law firm, Lance Jasper, has been showing up in curious places, like last November’s Mineral County Commissioner meeting where Rebekah Barsotti’s mother, Angela Mastrovito, excoriated Sheriff Toth for his mishandling of her daughter’s missing person’s case.
Lance Jasper ALSO showed up at Johnny Lee Perry’s coroner’s inquest and sat with the glaring row of Sheriff Deputies defending their colleagues use of force in the terrifying meth den west of town they had to respond to when that ex-con, Jack Maxvill, called his daughter, who called 911, setting off a chain of events that led to Johnny getting shot in the back twice by Sheriff Deputy Shawn Evans.
Establishing the role of Reep Bell & Jasper as defenders of law enforcement, and then overlaying that legal support with political donations going to conservative candidates, is important for what I’m about to disclose next, because the connection this law firm has to the Rebekah Barsotti case is more convoluted than Lance Jasper showing up at a Mineral County Commissioners meeting last November.
If you click on the link at the top of this post, you’ll see a screenshot of Rob Bell’s political donations, and in that screenshot you’ll see some of that political support going to Judge Jason Marks, the same judge who has YET TO RULE on a motion to intervene in a civil case before him where David Barsotti has been VERY successful in timely court filings and legal victories.
With all this context in mind, is it significant that the wife of Judge Marks, Jordan Kilby, works for Reep Bell & Jasper? I don’t know the answer to that question, but below is a portion of the Facebook post announcing her new job with the law firm.
I’m making these connections through publicly available media reports, like this one, where Judge Marks’ judicial challenger, Robin Hammonds, made an issue of Marks’ wife role (in the County Attorney’s Office at the time) during their respective campaigns. Why? Because Hammond was getting hammered for the fact some of her endorsements came from California. From the link (emphasis mine):
The work in California has earned Hammond a number of her own endorsements from the legal community there. That may, however, have backfired as some have drawn criticism on her social media campaign, eliciting the typical us-against-them challenge an out-of-stater would face, despite her state roots.
“The reason I do have endorsements from people in California is I worked there, I did well there, people respected me, and they know my skills and dedication,” Hammond said. “And I think it’s important for voters to know that, yeah, I’m from Montana and I worked somewhere else for a while. … It’s been sad, honestly, to see that as an issue.”
And on the flip side, Hammond believes her relatively new stance in Missoula’s legal community does provide some upside in some elbow room between her and the status quo.
“I’m not married to anybody in the public defender’s office or the county attorney’s office (Marks’ wife, Jordan Kilby, is a prosecutor in the Missoula County Attorney’s Office. Her cases do not go before Marks.), and I think that that is important,” Hammond said. “I didn’t work there, my career is not based there, and the decisions I make are not going to be impacted one way or another by the county attorney’s office and what goes on there and what the training has been. To me, I think that’s important in Missoula. It’s time for a change, and I think I represent that.”
How did Jason Marks respond to this? Here’s his “rebuttal” (emphasis mine):
Marks, in rebuttal, pointed out when he took the bench, Hammond, along with other defense attorneys, opted to keep Marks as judge when he had supervised the prosecutor in those cases, rather than substituting in another judge. The matter of Marks’ marriage to a prosecutor was also on display during the interview process in which the state judicial nomination commission forwarded his name and three others to the governor for selection. Marks also noted endorsements from the high ranks of the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, including vice president Colin Stephens and past president Peter Lacny.
“They support me because they know I’m fair, impartial and always willing to listen to them and their clients,” Marks said.
Yes, Judge Marks considers himself fair, impartial, AND, as we will soon see, TRAUMA-INFORMED, which is a great sounding phrase that gets more and more meaningless the more I hear it coming from the mouths of people like Judge Marks.
Here is more of Marks heaping praise on himself for his abilities:
Marks himself started out his career as a public defender before moving to the county attorney’s office. He was born and raised in Missoula, graduated from law school at Temple University in Philadelphia in 2005 and began practicing in Missoula afterward. When the Missoula County Attorney’s Office was the subject of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation for its handling of sexual abuse and assault cases, Marks was put in charge of building the subsequent special victims unit from scratch. That experience created new opportunities for Marks to lead trainings on the subject matter, and sticks with him as he presides over cases involving family matters, drug courts and more.
“I’m dealing with all these family law cases where there’s potentially domestic violence, and what do you expect from people in those circumstances,” Marks said. “I’m able to bring a trauma-informed experience perspective to all these other areas of law outside of criminal law.”
Yes, I’m definitely willing to believe these assertions Judge Marks made about himself are true. For example, I have personally witnessed Judge Marks appear VERY trauma-informed regarding the trauma David Barsotti has been experiencing during the past year; a terrible time during which a majority of the town where he lives considers him a suspect in the “river accident” of his ex-wife.
In fact, during the last hearing I attended, Judge Marks was so accommodating of David Barsotti, he declared a VERBAL report from the pathologist doing the second autopsy as being adequate for releasing the body from the crime lab in order to honor poor David’s wishes that cremation happen pronto, and control of the ashes went straight to him, the grieving husband.
One of my favorite phrases Judge Marks used in the last hearing, which may help those following this case from the outside understand the lengths he has gone to be trauma-informed, is “coloring outside the lines”. This was said in relation to his court-ordering of the second autopsy, an order the STATE crime lab COULD HAVE contested, if they wanted to, according to my conversation with the lab’s director, Travis Spinder.
Another point of being trauma-informed can be seen in the careful avoidance of that pesky PFMA charge (partner/family assault), which David was ultimately found not guilty of due to his wife’s failure to appear in court because, as we now know, she was dead.
In summary, it appears law enforcement is well-represented by effective lawyers who sometimes are married to trauma-informed judges who ALWAYS know who is experiencing the right kind of trauma, and who deserves the right kind of rulings from his impartial court.
Thanks for reading!