Missoula County Commissioners unanimously approved the release of $50,000 for the county attorney's office to pursue a declaratory judgment against the U..S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg formally requested the funds that had been allocated in 2012.

"We sent the letter to the DOJ, with some small changes you had suggested, and since them we have heard nothing, we have been essentially ignored," Van Valkenburg said. "So, I'm back here now after two weeks and I would at this time ask you to approve a budget amendment to transfer $50,000 that you previously set aside in 2012 to deal with this particular issue. We can use that money to hire outside counsel to pursue a declaratory judgment action against the DOJ, and try to put this matter to rest  as soon as possible. I think this is the most appropriate way to proceed at this time, and I think that it has a very good likelihood of success. I think it's the right thing to do, and I hope you agree."

Responding to public comment during the meeting, Van Valkenburg emphasized the importance of initiating court action before the federal government.

"If they (the Department of Justice) get to court first, it will be far more expensive to Missoula County," Van Valkenburg said. "They will run up the clock for discovery, which would cost the county thousands of dollars, when we have a case that the DOJ does not even have the authority to pursue this matter. I think, optimistically, that we're going to get out of this thing for less than the $50,000 we're asking for. We're going to file this thing, and the DOJ is either going to fold their tent, or a federal judge is going to tell them to pack their bags and go back to Washington, D.C. and leave us alone."

Commissioner Michelle Landquist closed the hearing with a comment.

"You've presented a compelling case, and I'm brokenhearted on so many levels that we just can't seem to settle this any other way than what you're suggesting," Landquist said. "I just pray that your optimism is correct, and we can do this for under $50,000."

The commissioners then voted unanimously to allocate the funds to the county attorney's office. Van Valkenburg said the legal action would be introduced within the next couple of weeks, and that he has already chosen a law firm, and a specific attorney to handle the case.

"My intention is the hire the law firm of Boone Karlburg," Van Valkenburg said. "The reason is that Natasha Jones is a partner in that firm, and has previously represented the City of Missoula in a similar matter, and is very familiar with both the legal issues and the people involved. She's dealt with the civil rights division and she's already done some preliminary work for us that indicates we have a very strong position."

Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg