Law firm hired as Hill County public defender
The law firm that's served as Havre's city prosecutor has been hired to provide public defender service for Hill County.
Brian Lilletvedt of Bosch Kuhr Dugdale Martin and Kaze PLLP said today the Hill County Commission awarded a contract to the firm earlier this month. The contract also includes the firm Altman and Boucher.
"Certainly a financial motive was part of our decision to change," he said, adding that a number of lawyers with the firm have extensive criminal defense experience.
The firm's contract with the city expires at the end of this month, Lilletvedt said.
Acting as prosecutors for the city created some conflicts of interest with some of the firm's clients, he said.
"We couldn't consistently provide services to some of our long-term clients," he said.
Lilletvedt, Stephen Brown and Mary Van Buskirk will handle the majority of the public defender work for the firm, Lilletvedt said. Dan Boucher of Altman and Boucher will also provide public defender services.
The county will pay the attorneys $60 an hour for their work, Lilletvedt said. The same hourly amount was paid to Havre lawyers Jeremy Yellin, Carl White and Randy Randolph, who held the previous contract with the county.
Yellin said today he was surprised at the change, adding that his experience as a public defender has been rewarding.
"It's been great representing those citizens accused of crimes that are unable to afford counsel," he said. "It's been a great six years. We were proud to have done it."
Keith Maristuen and Tami Barkus previously handled the city's prosecutorial work. Their absence will briefly affect the daily operations of Havre City Court, Judge Joyce Perszyk said Thursday.
"There will be about two weeks where there might not be a prosecutor during the transition," she said.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said the city is seeking a replacement prosecutor. The firm will continue to represent the city in other matters, Rice said.
County Commission Chair Pat Conway said today that the contract with the county is subject to approval by the state. He declined further comment.
The contract is the latest personnel change in the court systems in Hill County. Longtime Hill County Attorney David Rice was replaced Monday by Cyndee Peterson, the former chief deputy county attorney. Rice was appointed by Gov. Judy Martz to assume a judgeship in state District Court.
Peterson has appointed a former Cascade County prosecutor, Gina A. Bishop, as chief deputy Hill County attorney.
"She has experience in the prosecution of felonies and misdemeanors and has handled cases in youth court and those involving youth in need of care," Peterson said in a press release.
Bishop could not be reached for comment.
Boucher was a part-time deputy county attorney under Rice. Peterson said the county will continue to employ a part-time deputy county attorney and expects to announce Boucher's replacement next week.
The changes to Havre's legal community are extensive and far-reaching, Yellin said.
"It's a very dramatic change for this area," he said. "Only time will tell if it is positive or negative."