Judge Grants Christoffersen Preliminary Injunction
Judge Michael G. Moses has ruled in favor of attorney Janet Christoffersen in her request for a preliminary injunction barring Roosevelt County from any action prohibiting her from performing the duties of county attorney.
Moses wrote that Christoffersen is reinstated as the interim Roosevelt County attorney with all the responsibilities and benefits of that office until such time as the commissioners fulfill their statutory duty to appoint in accordance with Montana statute 7-4-2206 (2)(a). That statute reads that vacancies in all county offices, except that of county commissioner, must be filled by appointment by the board of county commissioners. The appointed individual holds the office, if elective, until the person elected at the next general election is certified.
County commissioners asked their attorney from the Montana Association of Counties send a request to Judge Moses to provide a better clarification of the statements regarding making an appointment.
Moses described Christoffersen as a qualified county attorney. “The evidence presented on Sept. 6, 2023, and of record shows she was a good public servant and fulfilled the duties of her office. Janet and the commissioners, for whatever reason, have had a falling out. The reasons given on June 29, 2023, are not compelling, however, the Court noticed in the minutes of the June 29th meeting, there was perhaps something more ‘in the weeds’ that is a problem. There was no evidence presented as to what may have been ‘in the weeds.’” According to statute, the appointee holds the office until the person elected at the next general election is certified. Commissioners may appoint a person to serve as an interim officer for the time period between occurrence of the vacancy and the date of which vacancy is filled.
Moses noted there was some confusion between appointment of the county attorney and appointing an interim officer. He said Christoffersen was clear of what she thought the agreement meant, while commissioners testified to their understanding.
The judge explained that 7-4-2206 (2)(b), which described an interim officer, provides for a stop gap interim solution in an emergency. Moses wrote, the time allowed for Janet to make a decision between Utah and Montana and for Roosevelt County to receive needed help. The problem arose when commissioners moved and approved to “not appoint Janet” on June 29.
Moses wrote that statute does not allow for the discharge in this manner of an interim appointee. A county attorney does not serve at the pleasure of the county commissioners.
“Janet Christoffersen is likely to succeed on the merits as to whether she is still the Roosevelt County attorney,” Moses wrote.
All other matters are reserved for trial to include issues of damages, mitigation of damages, etc. The judge ordered counsel to confer with one another concerning scheduling of jury trial, pretrial conference, motion hearing, expert disclosures, discovery deadlines and any other pretrial matters that need to be addressed.
During the hearing, it was pointed out that Christoffersen didn’t even attend the June 29th meeting to discuss her position.
“I had no idea they were going to do it,” Christoffersen testified. “I was under the assumption that if I wanted to stay, I could stay.”
Christoffersen said changes that she attempted to make included following job descriptions by Montana statute such as having the treasurer’s office handle tax deeds instead of the attorney’s office. Another example was having the clerk and recorder’s office, rather than the DES coordinator or legal assistant, take minutes at commissioners’ meetings.
Since the Sept. 6 hearing, Christoffersen has started duties as a deputy county attorney for Morgan County, Utah.