Court News

Feb 18, 2014 2:19 PM by Dennis Bragg - KPAX News

Van Valkenburg plans to press ahead with DOJ lawsuit

MISSOULA - Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg is determined to press ahead with a federal lawsuit questioning the authority of the Department of Justice to dictate policy changes in his office.

He's accusing the U.S. Department of Justice of being both "unethical and unfair" in leveling charges against his office in the press, instead of responding in court.

The 20 page DOJ letter accuses the Missoula County Attorney's Office of "gender bias" and violating the constitutional rights of Missoula's sex assault victims.

However those claims are based on other parts of the DOJ's investigations, not on direct information from the county. That's because Van Valkenburg had never worked with federal attorneys - claiming they had no jurisdiction.

"They have apparently gotten some people who have said some things. Who knows? They don't tell you who these people are. They don't tell you when these comments, they could have been made 20 years ago for all I know," Van Valenburg said.

"They are not in any way being responsible about explaining the evidence that they have. And I can guarantee you we do not operate in the fashion that they have characterized us," he added.

Van Valkenburg believes DOJ only issued its letter because he had filed the suit defending the immunity of his prosecutors.

"The reason that it's unethical is that there's a pending lawsuit. And they ought to be responding to that lawsuit in the context of that lawsuit with the pleadings that they submit to court rather t han having news releases and try to, sort of, poison the well with all this stuff that they never actually get in front of a judge."

DOJ briefly argues in the memo that they are not questioning the prosecutors' immunity, but policy violations of victims' rights. Van Valkenburg also says the feds didn't address the county's complaint.

"Tthey didn't even respond to those issues in this 20-page letter that they put out. They provided no law whatsoever to support their right to conduct this investigation."

Van Valkenburg is also determined to continue with the county's suit for declaratory judgement.

"Oh definitely. And we will pursue the lawsuit because that's the only way that this is really going to be resolved is if a federal judge decides one way or the other whether they have the authority. I don't think they do. I think we will win."

Van Valkenburg believes if the county hadn't filed suit, the USDOJ would have continued the open investigation to beyond his leaving office at the end of the year.

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