Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst was in the city council chambers on Monday for the appearance by officials from the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, she just wasn't invited to speak to the press regarding her department's compliance with its own agreement.

Responding to a question from the press that Pabst was notable absent from the dais, Vanita Gupta, head of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, said the agreement with the county attorney's office was still very early in its history, so an update would be premature.

Pabst met privately behind closed doors in the Jack Reidy conference room with Gupta, Cotter and other DOJ officials immediately following the press briefing in the council chambers..

Pabst, speaking to KGVO News after the press conference, said the meeting was to let her get personally acquainted with Gupta, to better facilitate future communications.She said she has worked hard to foster a good working relationship with the DOJ since she took office.

DOJ Vanita Gupta
photo by Peter Christian

"We've got a pretty good relationship with the Department of Justice," Pabst said. "I've been working with one of their civil rights attorneys. We also work with our attorney general's office several times a week in working on this agreement since they are the ones who are directly supervision of the implementation. We have a very cordial and productive relationship with the Department of Justice."

One question from the press to Gupta involved the county attorney's office. With a more open and accepting attitude by police, more sexual assaults are being reported. The reporter asked if prosecutions by the county attorney are keeping pace. Gupta said she was satisfied with the reports so far from the county attorney's office.

For her part, Pabst said it's too early to offer a definitive report on the number of prosecutions.

"I can tell you this, Peter, we are looking very carefully at the data and looking for gaps," Pabst said. "The other thing is, I think it's just too early to tell about any significant trends in prosecution. We'll continue to  work with the police department and with the attorney general on that, and as soon as we get some identifiable trends, we'll make a point to share that with the public, but right now, it's just too early to tell."

Pabst's predecessor, Fred Van Valkenburg, openly defied the Justice Department from the very beginning of its investigation, denying its demands for access to his office's files regarding sexual assault investigations. The rift between the two agencies was finally resolved when Van Valkenburg filed suit in federal court and Attorney General Tim Fox worked out a resolution agreement in June, 2014.



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