Judge dismisses $1 million lawsuit against county
Last updated 5/5/2017 at 11:50am
A Hill County judge has dismissed a $1 million lawsuit against the county in which a local woman said the county attorney’s gross incompetence was the reason assault charges against her former boyfriend were dropped.
District Judge Daniel Boucher said in his dismissal order that the woman’s allegations “lack factual basis,” and that the county attorney is immune from civil liability in performing her duties, citing Harris v. St. Vincent Healthcare to support the latter.
In her objection brief, Martha Hernandez — the woman who was suing the county — said Special Assistant Attorney General Courtney Mathieson, who is representing Hill County, was incorrect, as the examples of immunity do not apply to this lawsuit.
However, Hernandez continues, the lawsuit brought about the intended result. The charges against Eric Hawley were refiled before Martha Hernandez’ lawsuit was dismissed and assistant Attorney General Joel Thompson will try the case instead of Hill County Attorney Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson.
Hernandez said she would prefer the lawsuit be dismissed without prejudice — making it possible to refile “if deemed necessary” — instead of the with prejudice. Boucher dismissed the file with prejudice. The complaint cannot be refiled.
Mathieson says the Montana Supreme Court recognized the importance of immunity for prosecutors from civil liability.
“Prosecutorial immunity allows prosecutors to exercise independent judgment in making prosecutorial decisions without fear of harassment from unfounded litigation,” Mathieson said.
The immunity doctrine, Mathieson continues, requires “functional analysis,” as opposed to an emotional analysis that accuses the prosecutor of malice. A prosecutor cannot be liable when she acts within the scope of her duties, “regardless of negligence or lack of probable cause,” Mathieson’s argument says.
Boucher signed the order to dismiss the lawsuit April 25.
Hernandez filed her lawsuit March 15, after assault charges against her five-time convicted former boyfriend were dropped Feb 27. Cole-Hodgkinson has said, despite numerous attempts to reach Hernandez that day, she could not be found. So she requested the charges against Hawley be dismissed.
Hernandez and some of her children who Hernandez says witnessed the alleged assault were scheduled to testify against Hawley.
Charging documents accuse Hawley of beating Hernandez July 18, after he came home drunk and became angry because Hernandez was not giving him enough attention. Hernandez told Hawley to leave. Instead, he jumped on her and held her head down while yelling at her. One of her sons came in and told Hawley to leave. Hawley was arrested that same day, after an officer found him hiding in the trees by the home.