Yellowstone County judge holds MT Public Defender in contempt, issues fines

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Montana State Public Defender Rhonda Lindquist appears with staff attorneys for a hearing in the Yellowstone County Courthouse on Monday.

LARRY MAYER, Billings Gazette AJ Etherington

Yellowstone County District Judge Donald Harris held the director of the Office of the State Public Defender in contempt Monday morning following a hearing on why a number of cases in the judge’s court had not been immediately assigned to public defenders.

Harris fined OPD a total of $500 per case in his department—a total fine he estimated was between $5,000 to $10,000—to be paid to Yellowstone County. He also ordered that any case coming into his courtroom must have a lawyer assigned within a two-to-three-day standard set by OPD’s policies. He also clarified that the decision only applies to orders he signed in his department, but cautioned OPD that the sentiment among judges in the courthouse was not in their favor.

“This problem in this particular district, has persisted for months,” Harris told the courtroom Monday, “and it appears to the court that the problem

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