Two Havre residents and state employees have pleaded not guilty to felony charges stemming from their medical marijuana caregiver business, with a planned trial date already extended at the request of their defense attorneys to allow more time to prepare their cases.
Delaine Fitzpatrick, born in 1977, and her sister Malisa Fitzpatrick, born in 1982, both entered their pleas during a hearing in Havre Monday. Judge Julie Macek of Great Falls, the third judge presiding over the case, appeared via a video hookup,
The two defendants, who operate a licensed medical marijuana caregiver business under the name Gonja Gardens, were charged after an undercover investigation. They are accused of selling more marijuana in individual transactions than allowed under the medical marijuana law passed in 2004, of selling to a medical marijuana user not listed as their patient, and of having more marijuana in their possession with the intent to sell it than allowed under the law.
Delaine Fitzpatrick faces an additional charge, criminal distribution of dangerous drugs by accountability, under an accusation she worked with her sister to plan and provide illegal sales of marijuana.
Delaine Fitzpatrick works for the and Family Services Division of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. Malisa Fitzpatrick is a state Juvenile Probation and Parole officer.
Macek, who originally planned for a Jan. 10 trial date, agreed to set a later date after Malisa Fitzpatrick’s attorney, Marta Farmer of Havre, requested additional time to investigate the charges and research the issues.
Macek said she probably would set a date in April and would send notice to the defendants of the trial date and those of hearings to prepare for the trial. Macek advised the defendants that any delay to a speedy trial would be attributed to them.
Delaine’s attorney, Jeremy Yellin, who also appeared through a video hookup from Great Falls, said several issues will require additional time to prepare a defense. That includes the number of witnesses likely to be needed, as well as looking into the intent of the undercover investigation.
Yellin said the defense expects that investigating the charges will show that different state agencies worked together targeting the Fitzpatricks because of their positions in state agencies and their work with their clients in those jobs.
“This is a highly complex case,” he said, adding that the medical marijuana statute itself is complicated and that the defense expects to address the constitutionality of it as well.
Macek took jurisdiction over the case after Farmer and Yellin requested the previous judges be replaced. District Judge David Rice of Havre was the first judge, and was replaced by District Judge Laurie McKinnon of Shelby. Farmer and Yellin requested she be replaced earlier this month.
The Fitzpatricks were charged Sept. 28, after McKinnon accepted jurisdiction. They were arrested Aug. 19 following an investigation that started in July. According to the charging documents, the Tri-Agency Safe Trails drug task force started the investigation after informants told task force agents that the Fitzpatricks were providing more marijuana than legally allowed to their business.