A Missoula County Commissioner believes County Attorney, Fred Van Valkenburg is throwing the commission “under the bus” in the county’s lawsuit against the federal Department of Justice.
The DOJ has been investigating how Missoula law enforcement, the University of Montana and the County Attorney’s Office handle sexual assault cases after a string of such crimes were brought to light in 2012.
Both UM and Missoula Police have reached settlement agreements with the Department of Justice but County Attorney Van Valkenburg has refused, saying DOJ has no authority over his office. Van Valkenburg says his office is under the jurisdiction of the state Attorney General.
But, an earlier agreement between DOJ and the Attorney General may call that into question. A 2012 letter from then-Attorney General Steve Bullock to the Department of Justice arranges a meeting with DOJ for a status update on the progress of their investigation into how sexual assault cases are handled in Missoula.
Ali Bovingdon is now Governor Steve Bullock’s Deputy Chief of Staff but she worked in the Attorney General’s office then and she was on the conference call arranged with DOJ shorty after that letter was sent out.
“The conversation about process was if during the course of their investigation they uncovered cases, how that referral would occur back to the state Attorney General’s office,” she said.
That conference call and the communication between the Attorney General and DOJ has Missoula County Commissioner Michele Landquist second guessing the merits of County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg’s case against DOJ.
“I look at that agreement between the AG and DOJ as the AG giving permission to the DOJ to do their investigation and they should have asked Fred to cooperate,” Lanquist said.
The County Commission voted to approve $50,000 dollars for the County to move forward with the lawsuit. Landquist said she’s keeping her fingers crossed Attorney Van Valkenburg did not know about any deal between the DOJ and the Attorney General when he requested that funding.
“I would have had totally different conversations with Mr. Van Valkenburg had I known that and I would have never approved the money and I would have applied a whole lot more pressure,” Landquist said.
But Bovingdon says Van Valkenburg was aware of the deal struck in 2012.
Van Valkenburg is currently on vacation and representatives from his office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Ali Bovingdon says the questions over jurisdiction between the federal government and the state aren’t now-Gov. Steve Bullock’s primary concern in this case.
“His primary concern is making sure victims of sexual assault are protected, cases are prosecuted and offenders are held accountable,” she said.
The Department of Justice recently released a report harshly critical of how the Missoula County Attorney’s Office has handled sexual assault in the past.
Current Attorney General Tim Fox has asked the DOJ to share any evidence of the county mishandling assault cases, as the 2012 agreement stipulates.