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!
I called out Jason marks right to his face several times about how he should be mandatory reporting police and officers who break the law or violate the code of ethics
His cronies put a hammer job on Robin Hammond I watched it happened when Jason marks and his cronies want something they put into effect a team of people who change the outcome of legal cases and they don’t care because they’re above being sued for their s***** decisions Jason marks is a piece of work he knows damn well I’ve been abused by the Missoula City police department the city attorney’s office and he won’t do a f****** thing about it look the little b**** is connected to someone who he talks to at night and fix his cases don’t give a s*** whether they come in front of him or not I know how them insidious m************ work
He’s one of the f****** worst
Walks around all cocky and arrogant until I confront him and ask him why he never charged any cops for beating me he don’t care about that because those are his friends
You want another another joke of a f****** lawyer Martin jetnick
Lawyers should be under mandatory review for what they do
he’s a piece of s*** he worked with Karen Townsend to try and throw my ass in jail they said he was a public defender but he came from the prosecutor’s office in Great falls that’s not a public defender that’s a shill who does what the f****** prosecutor wants right Karen Townsend you weak ass excuse for a f****** judge
Is that right there and heard my hearing after you prosecuted me for your failed attempt to convict me for assault on a police officer two counts
Basically cuz it never f****** happened and you never f****** punish the pieces of s*** who came and beat me up did you Karen or Jason
F*** you go back to the article and read you left out the part where my girlfriend got on the stand and said aren’t you the person who prosecuted John for beating a police officers and lost the case oh yes I am dear hello recusal shouldn’t have f****** heard the case but how could you fix the case to your liking when that was the desired outcome right Karen scam Townsend
I hope that more dire when you asked Craig halco to tell you about his experience with law enforcement at the door of a house enlisted what 10 minutes of testimony at a bore dire and then right when you finished you ask Mr halco and the rest of the more tired does anyone know Mr alright to which Mr halco said I do no explanation why a federal agent would know me but you tried to take the whole f****** jury pool didn’t you you slimy bottom sliding twang
Karen Townsend you’re a piece of s*** you have no morals no ethics and no righteousness you think you’re somebody but I see right through you f****** vaporous piece of s***
And Jason marks he’s a turd that fell off your ass
And the fact that he wasn’t telling people his wife was a prosecutor you know there’s some stinky f****** s*** there
Just like Alex Bill who also knew of the police abusing my life and doesn’t care
A quarter record and he lets Lizzie lescence and John rice the human traffickers attack me using the court system and no one stops them what f****** kind of Fantasyland do these people live in
Can you get some solid cases that should solidly be able to be handled by legal professionals not in this f****** town I was told by a lawyer at that top was McDonald’s and wind that if you have one case against the city and you got 19 that you need their help on they’ll tell you you ain’t getting s*** unless you drop that one case or you don’t pursue us
Tell me that’s a lie Jason marks tell me that’s a lie here in Townsend come on f****** speak more b******* out here blow holes
This is why people think they can act like self-indulgent their their needs matter nobody else f****** does when you sign on the dotted line to do a job where you’re working for the citizens do you get the dichotomy of that do you not have to serve the citizens that you willingly signed up for oh no when your needs and desires are better than the citizens are greater than the citizens you come first you sick narcissistic f***
And then Jason marks tries to walk away from me when I confront him all I do is say the truth to his face he doesn’t like that what kind of judge is that if you do things legitimate you have nothing to worry about right little Jason
They’ll never be any redemption in this town as long as you have f*** stains like that guy hanging his coat up and putting on a black robe
He learned from the queen of incongruity Karen scam what you can Townsend with a f****** piece of work she was
Judge Harkins was no better f****** my lawyer ass for a speedy trial really and he said to him it’ll be a moot point here shortly this is 20 minutes before my trial
To judge Harkins head a real clear slate there looked at it without any slanted eyes right f*** you
And the cop that beat me up he moves up the ladder he’s now supervisor of the patrol shift he’s still a f****** worthless piece of s*** named Jake rosling
This piece of s*** brother who is inputting b******* background checks for the state of Montana Kyle rosling moved up the ladder he works for Oracle computers and glacier Bank but he’s just a f*** stick
Can you see what happens when they’re friends with people like David barsotti they then understand that they can break the f****** lawn nobody f****** holds them to account
What have I been exposing for the last 20 years that very thing and that’s exactly why they want to stomp me into a hole and never let me talk about any of this b******* this is all happening right here in the town that you guys so much love the insidious pieces of s*** are guiding and controlling where they want this money to go to spend millions and millions hell billions of dollars and you don’t have a say in it because you didn’t step up and want to serve the citizens of our town well the f****** people that are doing it didn’t want to serve the system and until we dismount that we will not have a city that has decent government
It’s difficult to place the article, or Mr. Ulrigg’s comment, in informed, relevant and meaningful context, so these remarks of mine are rather generic. They are not intended to indicate endorsement or refutation of either the article or Mr. Ulrigg; nor are they offered in defense of any person or in defense of any person’s purported conduct.
Judges don’t prefer criminal charges in American criminal law, as is common in the Continental (European) systems that utitize “investigating magistrates.” For an excellent example of the advantages of the Continental system, watch Costra-Garvas’ 1970s acclaimed narrative “Z,” based on the assasination of a Greek leftist/peace candidate by a Fascist conspiracy just before the Fascist coup. Or, consider the indictment by a Madrid investigating magistrate, for torture and crimes against humanity, of ex-Chilean Fascist Dictator Augusto Pinochet. For an example of the dangers of that system, consider the case of Amanda Knox. The American system is based on an “adversarial,” rather than an “inquisitory” model. It bears highlighting that the Continental (and, indeed, the overhelming majority of non-American criminal justice systems) also do not use juries to determine guilt/innocence, instead utilizing a judge, a panel of judges, or three judge panels of one judge and two “lay assessors.”
In our system, police (and grand juries — under broad control by prosecutors) investigate suspected crimes. Misdemeanors generally may be charged without a grand jury indictment, by a prosecutor’s filing of an accusatory document known as a Complaint of Information. A Felony generally (always in federal court) may be charged only via grand jury indictment, although in many states a felony may initially be charged by a prosecutor’s Information, with probable cause to bind the defendant over for proecution and trial determined either by grand jury (issuing a ‘No Bill’ if i finds no probable cause,” or an Indictment if it does), or by a Preliminary Hearing.
Apologies for so much detail; the bottom line is that American judges do not commence criminal prosecutions. Prosecutors and/or grand juries do. (Citizens and police may also commence prosecutions for petty misdemeanors and non-criminal violations/infractions in many places).
Assuming that a judge’s marriage to a prosecutor or defense attorney, or between a defense attorney and prosecutor, means any of them will be improperly biased or prejudiced for or against the state or defendant, are in my experience usually wrong. That doesn’t mean that a prudent prosecutor wouldn’t disqualify a judge on that basis, or that a prudent defendant wouldn’t reject an appointed defense lawyer married to a prosecutor, but a prudent lawyer or defendant will be aware of the judge’s or defender’s actual proclivities. The same is true regarding a judge’s or lawyer’s prior employment. Often, former public defenders and other criminal defense attorneys who assume the bench, are much ‘worse’ judges for accused persons than those without such history. Similarly, former prosecutors often are “better” for the accused due to enhanced scrutiny of the prosecutor.
And so on, and so on.
I’ve previously commented on the limited usefuless of examining a jprosecutor’s or lawyer’s political contributions. That’s not to say it’s never revelatory, by any means, but the myriad reasons for such contributions by those persons make drawing robust conclusions nearly impossible.
Generalizations regarding the biases, prejudices or proclivities of a judge or defense attorney who was a formerly cop, or based upon a defender or judge who is, or primarily donates to candidates who are, Democrat of Republican, “conservative” or “liberal,” are very unreliable. One of my favorite trial court judges was a political conservative, former fighter pilot (still flying jet fighters) who also was, while a judge, Brigadier General in command of the Oregon Air National Guard. When a cross examination by counsel seriously undermined a cop’s testimony, or police or prosecutorial misconduct was apparent, this judge would not be silent about his assessment of that testimony or police/prosecutorial misconduct. For example, in a hearing on a motion to suppress evidence filed by a defendant, this politically conservative judge interrupted the defense lawyer’s cross examination after a few minutes, turned toward the testifying cop sitting in the witness and bellowed “You’re lying like Hell, get off the stand and take a seat!” I happily appeared regularly in front of judges with that sort of background. They believed in the Constitution and would not tolerate official disregard for it. (OTOH, there are the Ollie North types of “conservatives”, who aren’t worthy of much, if any, respect and who should be usuallty be avoided whenever possible when they get law degrees and become criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors or trial court judges).
There are also innumerable examples of married couples in which one spouse is a criminal defense lawyer and the other a prosecutor, and each has a well-deserved reputation for very zealous representation and advocacy of the accused or government, respectively.
NONE OF MY GENERAL REMARKS are directed toward the investigatie journalistic examination of relationships and investigation of possible conflicts of interest among principles in the Barsotti affair. Quite to the contrary. It is proper, and the role of a truly free press, to do just that. And with respect to what I wrote above, it must be remembered that some familial and other relationships fall within the ambit of “implied bias” sufficient to disqualify a juror. So, it is entirely proper to, by lawful means, seek to detect substantial evidence of impropriety where reasonably suspected from various indicators. And it goes without saying that such relationships may indeed be the source, or result, of impropriotous or illegal conduct by a judge, defender, and/or prosecutor…something that can be determined only by digging.
Please dig on. This case demands it.
Here’s an anecdotal report from District Court. 3 years ago I had the opportunity to watch how Missoula’s Public Defender office, the Prosecutor’s office, and the Judge operated. I was helping someone close to me navigate some felony charges (first offenses) work their way through a plea agreement with deferred imposition of sentencing. It started in Judge Townsend’s Court, but she retired mid term. Jason Marks was the prosecutor in the case who was then appointed to fill out Townsend’s term. So we had to go through the mechanics of everybody being ok with that, and filing the proper paper work to allow it to happen.
It was with much trepidation that we decided to accept Marks’ moving from prosecutor to Judge, and also knowing that his wife was still working in the prosecutor’s office. There were lots of reasons for staying in Marks’ court — we could have moved to another, but that came with a much greater degree of uncertainty with the outcome. Townsend was moving both parties to the plea agreement — which took 6 months to arrange — when she retired. The defendant most likely would have been convicted in a jury trial (and rightly so), but there were some possible legal and constitutional issues with the gathering of evidence that could have played a role in a trial, leading to getting the charges thrown out–we elected for the plea agreement and a quicker resolution with the deferred imposition, instead of a long drawn out affair. Marks was being reticent on some of the plea agreement’s provisions. There were some un-indicted possible federal charges that could have ended up occurring, or the State could have also included them. The way the plea agreement was worded made all the difference on whether or not the state could in the future bring some further additional, and very damaging charges. The final agreement put an end to the state bringing any more charges over this arrest.
So it was a complicated plea agreement, and when Marks elevated to Judge, his replacement tried to get tougher, and we disagreed, and somehow started over by reverting back to the original plea agreement of 6 months prior that protected the person far better than the direction the new prosecutor was moving. There’s no doubt that Marks knew all this, but allowed the original plea agreement to proceed (wasting 6 months of weekly or bi-weekly hearings, wherein I got to spend a lot of time in the Court’s viewing gallery watching how the court, and defenders and prosecutors “worked”).
So long story short(er), we had to trust Marks to do the right thing, and to his credit he did. We always could have rejected the final plea agreement and moved to another Court or trial, but we didn’t have to. Defendant signed the final plea agreement, and after a couple years of good behavior, the Court accepted their request to change their plea to not guilty. The deferred imposition of sentence process worked as it was intended to in this case.
While I have much to say about the inefficiency of Missoula’s public defender and prosecutor’s office (probably wasted 10’s of thousands of dollars of attorney and court costs, and our $$ getting nowhere in those 6 months), it seemed that Jason Marks was very cognizant of the problems of moving from prosecutor to Judge. The public defender actually gave us a good review of Marks moving to Judge, which we thought odd but had to trust. But our public defender and Marks did a pretty bad job of communicating and getting the plea agreement done in a reasonable and timely fashion. Most of the hearings just ended up continuing the process, with the attorneys admitting they had made little to no progress. Which was frustrating having to drive an hour each way, and sit waiting sometimes 2-3 hours for a couple minute hearing that accomplished the judge hearing that nothing had been agreed and to reschedule for 2 weeks down the road, and pushing the trial lurking overhead further and further out. and Marks had to watch his replacement having the same troubles.
I chock up most of the inefficiency up to severely understaffed and underpaid defenders and prosecutors, who really didn’t have the time to work together on the plea agreement. And much of the understaffing was because defenders and prosecutors spent a significant part of their day futzing with their phones in the galleries waiting for their time to represent their client or the state. The whole system is broken. Public defenders probably spend at least a quarter of their day wasting time away, waiting for their turn. Scheduling cases was piss-poor, but I don’t know how to do it better when the scheduler has no idea what the prosecutor/defender have accomplished, or how long it will take, as much of the haggling happened during waits in the gallery with the attorneys moving out to the hall to confer, and then come in to talk to the judge. I’m sure there was a lot more inefficiencies behind the scenes that I wasn’t aware of.
But in the case of Jason Marks, moving from prosecutor to Judge, it worked out for us. I don’t know if it worked out for others. I don’t know how it is with his wife in the prosecutor’s office, but I wouldn’t want a new case to end up in his Court knowing that. There is no clarity on any real boundaries in the prosecutor’s office protecting a defendant from improprieties. If I were Jason Marks I’d have had a good family talk with my wife when I moved to Judge to see if she wanted to get a job outside of the prosecutor’s office just to remove any hint of impropriety. Trust in the system only goes so far, and then you have to protect yourself.
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