C-Falls Senator Faces Another Complaint For Lawyering Without License

By Beacon Staff

KALISPELL (AP) – Another complaint has been filed against a state senator and paralegal from Columbia Falls for allegedly practicing law without a license.

But Republican Sen. Jerry O’Neil said his work fits into an exception allowed under a court injunction banning him from practicing law.

The complaint was filed by Brenda Wahler, a special assistant attorney general who represents the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. She said O’Neil was representing a couple before the department’s Office of Fair Hearings.

Wahler said O’Neil recently wrote to her requesting evidentiary discovery on a letterhead saying he is an “advocate and counselor” and that he has been “licensed to practice before the Blackfeet Tribal Court since 1984.”

“By these actions, Mr. O’Neil is appearing or attempting to appear as a legal representative or advocate for others in a tribunal of this state,” Wahler said in the complaint. “Mr. O’Neil is providing legal advice, making discovery requests, and requesting motions.”

Wahler made her complaint against O’Neil to the Montana Commission on Unauthorized Practice of Law.

Commission chairman John Connor, the state Justice Department’s chief criminal counsel, wrote to O’Neil, informing him he must withdraw from the case or the commission’s complaint will be forwarded to the Lewis and Clark County attorney for civil or possible criminal sanctions.

O’Neil said his work on behalf of the couple does not violate an injunction issued by District Judge Kim Christopher of Polson.

He cites an Oct. 4 letter from the hearings officer in the case.

“A signed statement from the (couple) identifying you as their authorized representative is all that is needed for you to proceed on their behalf — no state-issued licensure is required,” the hearing officer states.