Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Cole-Hodgkinson facing grand jury investigation


Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson

Editor’s note: This version corrects Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson’s tenure as Hill County attorney.

A former Hill County attorney is facing a pending grand jury investigation in Texas on allegations she shot her estranged husband multiple times in his residence in Abilene.

Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson, who was Hill County attorney from November 2016 to July 2018, is expected to appear before a Taylor County, Texas grand jury sometime this month for an investigation into the felony charge of aggravated assault family violence, Taylor County Criminal District Attorney James Hicks said this morning.

The exact date the grand jury will investigate is not yet set, he said.

Cole-Hodgkinson was arrested and booked into jail in Abilene, Texas, Feb. 3, on the shooting charges and was released on $50,000 bond the next day.

At the time, Abilene police said they did not know when Cole-Hodkginson arrived in Abilene and had had no prior contact with her.

The incident report said her husband, Carl James Hodgkinson, returned home early in the morning of Feb. 3 to find that Cole-Hodgkinson had locked him out of his house. After he regained entry, he found her in a bathroom armed with a handgun, the report said.

Cole-Hodgkinson then shot him multiple times in the abdomen and his right shoulder, the report says. He was transported by ambulance to a local hospital for treatment for his injuries.

Cole-Hodgkinson was found next door at a neighbor's and was taken into custody by the Abilene Police Department.

The arrest report says that Cole-Hodgkinson refused to speak and did not provide any information about the incident.

The Abilene Reporter-News reported May 2 that Hodgkinson was indicted on charges of possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty May 16 to federal charges of possession of an unregistered firearm.

The Hill County Commission appointed Cole-Hodgkinson Hill County attorney Nov. 25, 2016, to take the place of Gina Dahl, who left office to take a position in Billings.

After complaints started coming in, the commission said they were not allowed by law to remove a person appointed to fill an elected position.

That led to Rep. Jacob Bachmeier, D-Havre, proposing a bill in this year's Legislature to allow county commissions to vote to remove an appointee from a position. The bill passed the House 85-14 but died in committee in the Senate.

Complaints against Cole-Hodgkinson started shortly after she took office.

She said in an interview early in her tenure that she was working to deal with a huge caseload, but an employee in the county attorney's office wrote a letter to the editor in March 2017 saying Cole-Hodgkinson had hardly been in Havre, spending most of her time closing out her practice in Missoula.

The same month, Cole-Hodgkinson requested a felony assault charge be dismissed because she said she lost contact with the victim.

The victim, who said she was prepared to testify but had not been contacted by Cole-Hodgkinson, then filed a $1 million lawsuit against the county alleging gross incompetence led to the dismissal.

District Judge Dan Boucher later dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the lawsuit lacked factual basis and the county attorney is immune from civil liability in performing her duties.

The state Attorney General's Office refiled and prosecuted the charges in the case that had been dismissed, to which the defendant plead guilty and was sentenced to seven years.

Also in March 2017, Cole-Hodgkinson appeared before Hill County Justice of the Peace Audrey Barger to explain why she had not appeared at a trial in Justice Court, leading to charges in that case being dismissed.

After Barger heard Cole-Hodgkinson's reason for the error, she admonished the attorney but did not find her in contempt.

Another felony case was dismissed in April when no one from the county attorney's office showed up for a hearing.

Cole-Hodgkinson said later the parties had reached a plea agreement, but no agreement was filed with the court, and the assault charges were dismissed.

In September 2017, three felony assault cases that were on the docket for trial in District Court in Havre were dismissed when Cole-Hodgkinson said she was unprepared to proceed with the prosecutions.

She was prepared to prosecute the fourth case on the docket that day.

Complaints continued in 2018, with people saying Cole-Hodgkinson has failed to file charges against suspects and failed to appear at hearings.

Boucher ruled in one felony case that the Hill County Attorney's office could not prosecute the case because Deputy Attorney Karen Alley, who later was appointed to take Cole-Hodgkinsons's place and later won in her unopposed general election candidacy for Hill County attorney, had previously served as public defender for the defendant and Cole-Hodgkinson had not made alternative arrangements.

Facing contempt-of-court hearings in Hill County Justice Court and state District Court in Havre, Cole-Hodgkinson submitted her resignation effective at 8 a.m. July 30.

State District Judge Dan Boucher had set hearings  in which Cole-Hodgkinson was to explain why she had not filed required written judgments on sentences imposed in seven cases.

After Cole-Hodgkinson provided the judgments July 30, along with a letter saying personal problems had interfered with her work and that she had resigned, Boucher vacated those hearings.

Hill County Justice of the Peace Audrey Barger held a contempt-of-court hearing y Aug. 7 and found Cole-Hodgkinson guilt of three counts of criminal contempt, sentencing her to six days of house arrest and fining her $1,500 for not having an attorney capable of representing the state appear in three different criminal cases.

She also barred Cole-Hodgkinson from practicing in her court unless representing herself for one year.

Cole-Hodgkinson had faced similar issues while a deputy Lake County attorney. In one case  in 2014, a district judge threw out a felony charge alleging a man had attacked a jailer, saying Cole-Hodgkinson had taken too long - 18 days - to file the charges after the suspect made his initial appearance.


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