BHC attorney’s office criticized for lack of response to alleged vehicular homicide

Letter to the Editor
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Just over two years ago, our daughter was killed in an accident in Montana and the driver was charged with vehicular homicide by the Big Horn County Attorney’s Office.

Hearing that Big Horn County had filed charges, we provided Deputy County Attorney Randen Schoppe with phone numbers and asked to be kept apprised of all proceedings per our rights under Montana Statute 46-24-203. Schoppe wrote our phone numbers inside the case folder and assured us he would notify us of any proceedings – but over the course of the next 12 months, he never did.

Whenever we contacted the office, Schoppe stated he was “just thinking that he should give us a call” or he “was intending to call, but had misplaced our phone numbers.” Frustrated with not being contacted, I spoke with Big Horn County Attorney Jay Harris. Harris assured me on the phone that I would be notified of any potential settlement and I also would have the opportunity to speak at any sentencing hearing.

Not satisfied with Harris’s assurances based on the office’s track record, I contacted the Attorney General’s Office for the State of Montana. The assistant attorney general communicated with Mr. Harris via email and, once again, I and the assistant attorney general were assured by Harris via email that he would “follow up at such time as there is a definite court date and time set for a status hearing and/or a plea agreement is entered into.”

On July 2, 2018 we received an email from Harris stating, “Please see the attached. I regret that you were not able to attend the sentencing hearing held in this matter.” The attached document informed us the case was settled on June 28, 2018. Once again, we were never notified by the Big Horn County Attorney’s Office of the date of the hearing or the terms of the plea agreement.

Over a period of almost two years, we never once were contacted by the district attorney’s office, despite providing them with phone numbers and emails, and having requested such notification repeatedly in person, by phone and in writing. To date, despite a letter from the Montana Attorney General’s Office requesting an explanation of why we were never notified, we have received no explanation as to why such notification never was provided.

No parent who has endured such tragic loss of a child ever should be denied their right to prompt notification (per Montana Statute 46-24-203). Through their direct action (or lack thereof), attorneys Jay Harris and Randen Schoppe denied us that right.

My wife and I urge the voters of Big Horn County Montana to vote “no” to retaining Jay Harris in the office of county attorney in the upcoming election.

Big Horn County, Montana deserves better legal representation than a district attorney, who in my opinion, either lacks the moral integrity to abide by his given word or is incapable of managing his deputy county attorney, and who fails to abide by Montana statutes or demand his staff do likewise.

We all deserve better treatment and more integrity from the Big Horn County district attorney’s office.

Randy Rowland

Sheridan, Wyoming