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Missoula County Attorney Wants Commissioners to Defy DOJ
Van Valkenburg said his office received a letter from the DOJ threatening a lawsuit
MISSOULA — Missoula County's attorney wants to challenge the U.S. Justice Department's authority to investigate the way his office handles sexual assault cases.

In May 2012, the Justice Department announced an investigation into the way reported sexual assaults were handled by University of Montana campus police, Missoula police and the county attorney's office. Campus police and the city Police Department cooperated with the investigation and reached settlements that required increased training and some policy changes.

However, Fred Van Valkenburg has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, questioning the agency's authority to investigate the county attorney's office.

Earlier this week, Van Valkenburg said his office received a letter from the DOJ threatening a lawsuit. He said the DOJ's correspondence was listed as "confidential and private" and intended for "negotiating purposes only."

The county has set aside $50,000 in anticipation of a court battle or settlement with the agency.

On Thursday, Van Valkenburg told commissioners the county would be better off using the money to pursue a ruling on whether the agency has the authority to investigate his office.

The DOJ has said its authority comes from the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which gives the federal government the authority to sue local governments over the conduct of their law enforcement officers. Van Valkenburg argues prosecutors aren't law enforcement officers. He said the county should ask a federal judge to decide the issue.

Commission chair Jean Curtiss said Van Valkenburg and Marnie McClain, chief civil deputy county attorney, "made a good case" for taking the case to court.

"For whatever reason we have been kind of picked on by the DOJ and I honestly think we have a greater responsibility to the country as a whole, to prosecutors in every county in America, to stand up and say this is wrong, you can't do this," Van Valkenburg said.
 
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