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Van Valkenburg Speaks Out About DOJ Suit

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MISSOULA -

The Missoula County Attorney is asking a federal judge to decide if the Department of Justice can legally investigate his office. The DOJ  has never attempted to investigate a prosecutor's office anywhere else in the country, and Fred Van Valkenburg is not going to let it start in his office. He formally filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.

Van Valkenburg said the filing of the 19-page lawsuit is just the first step in a process that will probably takes months.

After an almost two-year disagreement with the Department of Justice, Fred Van Valkenburg files a lawsuit asking a federal judge to decide if the DOJ  has the authority to investigate his office.

"It's a very significant legal precedent that the DOJ  is trying to impose on Missoula County," Van Valkenburg said.

Documents in the $50,000 lawsuit show the Department of Justice accused the Missoula County Attorney's Office of discrimination in its prosecution of sexual assault crimes. Van Valkenburg said the Department of Justice has overstepped its authority by trying to investigate the office of a locally elected prosecutor.

"We believe the federal Department of Justice does not have such authority to conduct such an investigation, and even if they did, tenants of prosecutorial immunity would prohibit them from getting anywhere with that," Van Valkenburg said.

The disagreement started almost two years ago, after the DOJ investigated both the Missoula Police Department, and University of Montana on the way they handled sexual assaults, but Van Valkenburg refused to cooperate with the DOJ.

"We think a federal judge should hear that issue before we go through with any demands the Department of Justice is making," Van Valkenburg said.

Before deciding to file the suit, Van Valkenburg sent a letter outlining why he thinks an investigation is unacceptable, and never received a response.

"We think we have a precedent stand against interference on operation into our office, and I want to get that resolved by a federal judge as soon as possible," Van Valkenburg said.

The Department of Justice will get chance to answer the action, then Van Valkenburg said a federal judge should rule on the lawsuit some time in the next few months.

Natasha Jones of the Boone Karlberg Law Firm in Missoula is handling the case.

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