By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The Nov. 2 election will decide if the Hill County Commission's interim appointee as county attorney, Democratic candidate Cyndee Peterson, keeps the job for two more years or if Republican candidate Randy Randolph unseats her.
Randolph is publicly critical of Peterson and said his experience and background make him better suited for the job.
The commission chose Peterson, then deputy county attorney, in August 2003 when former County Attorney David Rice was appointed state District Court judge. Peterson's appointment covered the first half of Rice's four-year term until the November elections, when county voters decide who would fill the remaining two years.
Peterson said her experience as county attorney, as well as her two years as a deputy county attorney under Rice, and previous experience as a clerk for District Judge John Warner have given her strong on-the-job experience, as well as good role models.
Challenger Randolph said his experience in private practice has given him the people skills a county attorney should have. Randolph is Blaine County public defender, and a former public defender for Hill County. He also has a private practice.
He said he also is an admirer of Rice, and said Rice's model as county attorney was one reason he first thought of filling the post when he returned to Havre after law school.
Randolph said Peterson lacks the private practice experience that helps a lawyer deal well with people, and he also criticized choices she's made in filling charges.
Randolph said Peterson has filed felony charges when they're not always warranted.
"I think that we have to balance everything we do," Peterson said in response.
"He's a defense attorney. Of course he's going to say that. I look at the statutory requirements and if it's a felony, that's what I charge."
She added, "If you asked the police, I'm sure they'd say the opposite. It's all about balance."
Peterson was privately criticized by some officers after she issued a memo on Feb. 29 informing law enforcement officers not to call asking her or memus during an investigation and ask us whether he/she can arrest an individual," the memo says. "We cannot advise you whether to arrest someone, whether to enter a home, or whether to search someone or something. Likewise, we cannot advise you how to investigate a case. Those are police duties and you have immunity from civil suit in making those decisions. As prosecutors, we do not."
The memo makes no mention of the time of day that officers call.
Peterson said the memo was in reference to late-night phone calls, not general consultation. She said she was told by either the police chief or the sheriff that newer officers believed it said they couldn't consult with her at all.
She said she subsequently explained to officers that at 3 a.m., and given only part of the facts, she could not be expected to give a coherent response to a question.
Officers have also complained that Peterson is not always as aggressive as they'd like in filing charges.
One such case involved Joel Spackman, who the Sheriff's Office said carried an SKS assault rifle from Havre to Beaver Creek Park while being pursued by officers on foot. Spackman was arrested on charges of criminal endangerment and assault on a peace officer. However, Peterson didn't file charges in the case and Spackman was ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination.
Peterson said she didn't file charges because no crimes were committed.
Randolph said he's the better choice because he's more familiar with Havre.
Randolph, a fourth-generation Havre native said, "I think I have a better feel for community needs, community diversity as well."
Peterson said she is committed to Hill County.
"I've dedicated my career to Hill County. I hope to stay here and follow Dave Rice's lead," she said.
Peterson is a native of Circle. She worked as deputy county Attorney in Chester County, then began working in Hill County in 2000, and moved to Havre later that year.
From 1999-2000, Randolph was court administrator for the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court.
"I'm really not running to spite the current prosecutor or in any way to suggest she's not doing her job," he said. "I'm running because I've personally wanted to do it for a long time," Randolph said.
Peterson has outspent her opponent tenfold. As of Oct. 16, her campaign had received $5,501 in contributions, which included $1,550 of her own money. Randolph has kept his campaign under the $500 mark, meaning he hasn't had to file a compaign finance report.