Lawyers want state to investigate prosecutors

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Ken Park

Three Flathead Valley attorneys have asked the Montana Attorney General’s Office to investigate the Flathead County Attorney’s Office over allegations of wrongdoing.

Attorneys John Quatman, Phyllis Quatman and Tim Baldwin of Quatman & Quatman in Whitefish submitted their request for an investigation Aug. 25. They allege “unethical/criminal activities in the Flathead County Attorney’s Office,” specifically by County Attorney Ed Corrigan and Deputy County Attorney Kenneth Park plus at least one member of the Northwest Drug Task Force.

A call to the Prosecution Services Bureau at the Attorney General’s Office, where the complaint was filed, was not returned. However, the director of communications for the attorney general, John Barnes, said that the office has received a letter regarding the Flathead County Attorney’s Office but that they cannot comment.

The Flathead County Human Resource Department is reportedly investigating the Flathead County Attorney’s Office as well. A spokesperson for the department would neither confirm nor deny an investigation; however, a Human Resources employee interviewed the mother of one of Jack Quatman’s clients in his law office on July 22 with Quatman present.

The woman’s home had been searched by the Northwest Drug Task Force after her son had been arrested on drug charges. The woman told Human Resources that “she was scared to death” because officers had “gotten in her face.”  

The letter sent to the Attorney General’s Office states that the Quatmans and Baldwin are filing the request “with the permission and at the request of various clients.” Numerous exhibits were included in the complaint.

Phyllis Quatman said that she got involved with Baldwin’s request because she had experienced “prosecutorial vindictiveness” by Corrigan in 1999 when she served as a public defender, and she believed it was happening again.

The three attorneys have formed the Criminal Defense Attorneys Association, “largely because of discovery violations,” Phyllis Quatman said. “Nobody can get anything done, and everyone gets mad at the defense attorneys for ‘stalling cases’ when in fact, the county attorney’s office is charging cases without having evidence or the reports.

“We all understand that they can’t get quick results with the crime labs backed up, and we’re all willing to work with that, but we’re talking about statements from our clients and all kinds of exculpatory evidence [that the county is withholding].”

Baldwin stressed that the complaint is not so much about the discovery violations, but the accusations they’ve made about intimidation from the county attorney’s office.

“This is not just about discovery issues, although that is an immediate part of it,” Baldwin said. “They aren’t the full thing. The most egregious conduct is when they’re going to clients and threatening them and their family members.”

In particular, the complaint accuses Corrigan, Park, and Northwest Drug Task Force member McKeag Johns of interfering with the attorney-client privilege in a case involving Cory Franklin, including advising Franklin and his wife to fire Baldwin as their attorney.

Franklin’s wife, Kristina, was a confidential informant for the Northwest Drug Task Force under the direction of Johns, a Flathead County sheriff’s deputy. Kristina Franklin recorded a conversation with Johns and submitted a signed affidavit in Flathead County District Court of her statement as well as a transcript of the telephone conversation between Johns and herself.

In the affidavit, Kristina Franklin states that Johns “said that Park was not helping me now because of Tim Baldwin.” Kristina Franklin also alleges in her affidavit that Johns told her that Park is not the only one who dislikes Baldwin; it was the entire Flathead County Attorney’s Office.

In the transcript, Johns is quoted as saying, “So right here and now, I’ll say it one more time. That you need to look into the attorney that you have and make sure you’re getting along with him correctly. Because it comes down to, do you want the entire County Attorney’s Office against you?” Johns is also later quoted as saying that he had said too much, at one point telling Kristina Franklin, “I’m passing along to you more than I should.”

Later in the conversation, Johns refers to keeping Kristina Franklin in line as a confidential informant and is quoted as saying, “I’m the mother-[expletive] that’s going to keep you responsible for that stuff. I’m the guy that’s going to throw you in jail if you don’t. Even as your handler as a CI, I will throw you in jail if I find you in violation of that. As much as I appreciate the work you’ve done, I will throw you in jail today.”

Kristina Franklin’s affidavits are included in the complaint to the Attorney General’s Office, as well as audio of the phone conversation. In an affidavit filed Tuesday releasing the audio, Kristina Franklin admits that she knows recording the conversation between her and Johns was illegal, but that she did so because she “was fearful of retaliation” against her and her husband “for not terminating Tim Baldwin as Cory Franklin’s attorney.”

The complaint argues that the conversation between Kristina Franklin and Johns constitutes witness tampering, since Franklin was a defense witness.

“The reason Kristina recorded that conversation was because she was scared for her family,” Baldwin told the Inter Lake. “It’s a 26-minute conversation where McKeag Johns threatens her up and down, impugns me as an attorney, references Park and Corrigan as the source of the information he’s receiving, and also that he has no control over what they’re doing and what he’s doing to her.

“I’ve talked to Cory and Kristina, and they both have been seriously affected by what’s happened here, and they want to do the right thing. They want to get this egregious conduct out to the public.”

Cory Franklin was charged with conspiracy to distribute dangerous drugs and possession of dangerous drugs, according to Baldwin.

After Baldwin filed Kristina Franklin’s affidavit in court regarding her conversation with Johns, Baldwin requested interviews with Corrigan, Park, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, and Johns and received no response.

“So then I used the statutory authority that I had to move to compel their depositions,” Baldwin said. “And that was on the verge of being granted, and it was at that time that they dismissed the cases [against Cory Franklin].”

Jack Quatman added, “They dismissed that case to get the snakes back in the box. It was damage control. You can’t be a witness without being intimidated by the prosecution and the drug task force.”

Baldwin filed a motion in Flathead County District Court for Rule 11 sanctions July 18. A hearing was held Sept. 5 in which Park, Cory Franklin, Corrigan, and probation officer Paul Parrish testified.

Rule 11 in Montana Rules of Civil Procedure allows for sanctions against an attorney who files anything for an improper purpose. Baldwin is alleging that Parks filed a petition to revoke Cory Franklin’s probation for an improper purpose — to punish him because of his “disdain for Baldwin” and “to harm Cory for keeping Baldwin as his attorney.”

On Tuesday, Baldwin requested an additional hearing to call Johns to the stand in the sanctions hearing.

The Quatmans and Baldwin allege that Corrigan and Park coerce guilty pleas by threatening suspects, threatening suspects’ family members or threatening to take away suspects’ children. Eight exhibits of particular cases are included where attorneys felt their clients were coerced or threatened.

One of those exhibits is a copy of a hearing transcript from Montana v. Germaine Steffes in June 1999. In that case, Phyllis Quatman filed a motion to dismiss due to prosecutorial vindictiveness on the part of Corrigan.

At one point during the 1999 hearing, Corrigan testified that he had arrested Steffes a few days before Christmas 1998. Corrigan testified that, “It thrilled me to no end to be thinking of your client getting upset with you because she had to spend Christmas in jail.”

Phyllis Quatman said the Steffes case was brought in to establish pattern and practice. “I don’t have any desire to revisit the past,” she said.

Jack Quatman referred to another case, Montana v. Byron Nelson, where he believed the defendant was coerced into a guilty plea. Nelson’s mother was the one interviewed by Flathead County Human Resources at Quatman’s law office. Shortly after officers had visited his mother’s home, Nelson had a change of plea hearing before Judge Heidi Ulbricht.

According to the transcript of the hearing, Ulbricht asked Nelson, “Has anybody from the State made any threats or promises to you causing you to enter this plea of guilty?”

Nelson testified, “Yes, Mr. Park sent three task force agents to harass my mother with false claims... if that’s considered harassment or whatever, I guess...”

Nelson went on to say, “I mean I know I’m kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place to where if I do what I think is right then they’re going to continue to harass my mom with false claims, and this is the smartest decision for me, I guess, to plead guilty.”

A copy of that court transcript with Nelson’s testimony was reportedly placed on Corrigan’s desk recently. Jack Quatman said he received a call from an assistant at the County Attorney’s Office who asked him if he had put the transcript on Corrigan’s desk. The assistant reportedly told Quatman that “Corrigan is very concerned.” Later that week, Flathead County Human Resources launched its investigation into the County Attorney’s Office.

The County Attorney’s Office is also alleged to have “routinely withheld exculpatory evidence,” as stated in the complaint.

The complaint cites Montana v. Matthew Heuer, a case that was dismissed in July by Judge Ulbricht. Heuer, who was in jail on a felony criminal endangerment charge, reportedly tried to hire his cellmate to murder his ex-wife. The cellmate had worn a wire and recorded the conversation. According to the attorneys’ complaint, Park failed to provide discovery in a timely manner, which resulted in the case being dismissed.

Earlier in the Cory Franklin case, Baldwin had filed a motion to compel discovery and a motion for sanctions against Park for willful violation of discovery. The day that those motions were filed, Baldwin said he was in court on another matter and was handed a stack of discovery by Park.

“It was a willful violation of discovery,” Baldwin said. “He didn’t give me recorded statements of my clients, photographs and key pieces of evidence that any attorney needs to represent their client.”

Phyllis Quatman also made note of a motion she filed that’s still pending that includes 25 pages of evidence alleging Park’s prosecutorial misconduct and 10 more pages on Park’s discovery violations.

 “You have to have push back,” Phyllis Quatman said. “That’s the point of an adversarial system.”

As Corrigan put it in describing complaints against his office:

“We’re in the business of making decisions that frequently leave people unhappy. This is one recourse that they can choose to follow.”

Reporter Brittany Brevik may be reached at 758-4459 or by email at bbrevik@dailyinterlake.com.

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