Judge Considers Whether Piocos’ Case Is Moot
Judge Michael G. Moses said he will make a ruling fairly soon after listening to arguments on a motion to dismiss the Frank Piocos v. Roosevelt County case on Wednesday, Dec. 20.
Piocos is looking for a judgment to acknowledge he was not lawfully removed as county attorney, having his salary reinstated, having his salary paid from Feb. 4 to the present, having attorney’s fees paid and other supplemental relief.
Attorney for the county, Stephanie Oblander, noted that it’s a simple and straight case for constitutional guardrails. At stake is having the courts put in the position to make advisory decisions for government entities.
Piocos was elected as county attorney in November 2022, but he was ruled not to be an eligible elector after Roosevelt County resident Darla Downs filed a petition. District Judge Katherine Bidegaray voided the election with a ruling on Feb. 3, 2023.
Oblander said Piocos was informed that same day that he won’t receive salary pay as a result of the order. Piocos hasn’t challenged that decision until the current case against Roosevelt County.
The Montana Supreme Court affirmed that Piocos wasn’t eligible for election.
“It was an outright rejection of his arguments,” Oblander said.
She noted that Piocos didn’t seek salary reimbursement in the Supreme Court case. She added that the current case isn’t the proper venue to seek the salary.
Oblander argued that Piocos is seeking salary for a position that he isn’t working in nor qualified to hold.
In a separate case, appointed county attorney Janet Christoffersen received a preliminary injunction to remain in the position.
She said two decisions make the current case moot. Bidegaray’s decision was that Piocos wasn’t legally elected and the Supreme Court agrees.
“He was not qualified and nothing has changed since then,” Oblander said. “He’s taking the approach that he won on appeal and he lost on appeal.”
She noted that Piocos’ remedy is to run in the next upcoming election.
Attorney Phillip J. DeFelice, representing Piocos, said that Piocos was appointed as country attorney in February 2021. Almost two years to the date, Piocos was physically removed from office by a man with “a badge and a gun.”
DeFelice said that no one had the authority to remove Piocos and the incident happened before a final order was submitted. He said as long as someone is county attorney, the person is entitled to the salary.
DeFelice said that Bidegaray’s “crystal clear” ruling voided the election. He argued that Piocos was still the appointed county attorney.
DeFelice noted that no removal order was ever issued and there was no legal mechanism for Piocos to be removed. It was also questioned why Piocos wasn’t given notice as a party of interest in the Christoffersen case.
“All these wrong decisions made by respondents are why we’re here today,” DeFelice said.
DeFelice suggested that county commissioners didn’t like Piocos, so he ended up being removed. Now, commissioners don’t like Christoffersen. He said commissioners should seek legal advice before they make county attorney appointments.
“Respondents shouldn’t be awarded for the mess they created,” DeFelice said.
Oblander argued that the ruling in the Downs’ case removed Piocos and left a vacancy in the position. The vacancy was filled and it was resolved.