A complaint to the state Attorney General’s office by three local criminal defense lawyers alleging numerous ethical violations by Flathead County prosecutors and a drug task force agent has been referred to the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel.
Kalispell defense attorney Timothy Baldwin, along with lawyers Jack and Phyllis Quatman, filed the request for an investigation Aug. 25. In it, they allege “unethical/criminal activities in the Flathead County Attorney’s Office” by Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan, Deputy Flathead County Attorney Kenneth Park and an agent with the Northwest Drug Task Force, McKeag Johns of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.
In response, Assistant Attorney General Brant Light, bureau chief of the Prosecution Services Bureau, wrote the attorneys and explained that he did not believe any criminal activities had occurred, but that the alleged ethical violations are “troubling.”
“I do not believe that any of the allegations you have outlined in your letter warrant a criminal investigation of Ed Corrigan or Kenneth Park. With that said, the numerous ethical violations you have alleged are troubling,” Light wrote. “However, the Attorney General’s Office does not investigate ethical violations but refers such matters to the Commission on Practice. The Commission on Practice is in a better position to investigate the allegations listed in your letter.”
He continued: “Due to the fact that you have made me aware of the alleged ethical violations against two prosecutors in the State of Montana, I feel obligated to forward a copy of the documents you enclosed with your letter to the Commission on Practice as an FYI. Because I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of the allegations, I will not be requesting an investigation by the Commission on Practice but simply putting them on notice of the alleged ethical violations.”
An office administrator at the state Commission on Practice in Helena said the complaint must first be filed with the Montana Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which is responsible for the intake investigation and prosecution of ethical complaints. If the office decides discipline is warranted, it seeks approval from the Commission on Practice, a panel of nine attorneys and five non-attorneys. If the panel determines there is enough compelling evidence, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel files a formal complaint with the Montana Supreme Court.
Board members of the state Commission on Practice are appointed to four-year terms by the Montana Supreme Court, following an election by licensed attorneys in their respective areas.
John Barnes, a spokesperson for the state Attorney General’s Office, stressed that the office merely forwarded the information to the commission, and is not conducting an investigation of its own.
The Flathead County Human Resource Department is currently investigating the Flathead County Attorney’s Office, according to Baldwin’s complaint, but the department would not confirm the investigation.
Corrigan said he has not seen the complaint and that his knowledge of it is based on media reports. He said if and when an agency serves his office with the complaint he will file a detailed response.
“This is an ongoing investigation so I cannot comment specifically on the allegations against us. I do think it is nonsense, but I cannot comment on specifics,” Corrigan said. “There are of course two sides to every story. We are not hiding anything, but we need to follow the proper steps.”
The complaint relates to several cases in which the lawyers allege prosecutorial misconduct and witness tampering by law enforcement.
The most recent instance they cite relates to a criminal drug possession case in which the lawyers say Johns, the task force agent, and Park, the county prosecutor, intimidated a defendant named Cory Franklin as well as a defense witness, Franklin’s wife Kristina Franklin, who had previously cooperated with the drug task force as a confidential informant.
The complaint alleges that the intimidation was part of a concerted effort to have Baldwin fired from the case.
To corroborate the allegations, Kristina Franklin, through Baldwin, released an audio recording and transcript of a telephone conversation between herself and Johns in which the law enforcement officer impugns Baldwin’s reputation and implies that the defense lawyer’s involvement with the case would lead to harsher treatment of Cory Franklin because of disdain for Baldwin within the county attorney’s office.
Kristina Franklin, who acknowledged she recorded the conversation illegally, also submitted a signed affidavit that includes a transcript of the 26-minute telephone conversation with Johns.
In the affidavit, she states that Johns told her “that Park was not helping me now because of Tim Baldwin.”
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?”
At the center of the criminal case is Cory Franklin, who was charged in two separate drug cases – one alleging conspiracy to distribute dangerous drugs and possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute, both felonies; and the other alleging felony possession of dangerous drugs and two misdemeanors drug charges.
The charges have since been dismissed in what Baldwin characterized as an attempt to cover up wrongdoing by Park and Johns.
After Baldwin filed Kristina Franklin’s affidavit in court regarding her conversation with Johns, the lawyer requested interviews with Corrigan, Park, Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, and Johns, but received no response.
Baldwin then filed a motion to compel their depositions. However, before District Judge Heidi Ulbricht ruled on the request, both cases were dismissed at the behest of Park.
“They dismissed the cases to cover up these egregious acts. They knew that the cases were riddled with improprieties, and that we had evidence of it,” Baldwin said.
On July 18, Baldwin filed a motion in Flathead County District Court requesting sanctions against Park for allegedly instructing Cory Franklin’s probation officer, Paul Parrish, to file an unwarranted report of a violation of Franklin’s probation, allegedly as an act of retaliation.
A Sept. 5 hearing on the motion for sanctions featured testimony by Park, Cory Franklin, Corrigan and Parrish. Park testified that he never had any conversation with Johns about pursuing the case more aggressively because of Baldwin’s involvement.
According to the motion, Parrish said he would not have filed a report of a probation violation had Park not requested he do so.
In the motion, Baldwin accuses Park of filing a petition to revoke Cory Franklin’s probation based on the report of violation because of his “disdain for Baldwin” and “to harm Cory for keeping Baldwin as his attorney.”
Corrigan testified that he ultimately dismissed the case based on the appearance of impropriety.
“I testified to that there was an appearance of impropriety that led me to dismiss the charges,” he said of the case. “Again, I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation, but we have nothing to hide.”
On Tuesday, Baldwin submitted the audio recording and transcript, neither of which had been part of the file, to the court and requested an additional hearing to call Johns to the stand in the sanctions hearing.
In the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 11 allows for sanctions against an attorney who files motions “for an improper cause.” According to Baldwin, Park’s petition to revoke Franklin’s probation was out of disdain for the lawyer.
“The evidence shows that Mr. Park had an actual bias against the Defendant’s attorney and used his power as a prosecutor to treat the Defendant and his attorney unfairly, unethically, and in violation of federal and Montana Constitution,” Baldwin state in the motion. “Now, evidence reveals in this case that Mr. Park used his power as a prosecutor to compel Mr. Parrish to file a report of violation.”
According to a sworn affidavit by Cory Franklin regarding a conversation he had with Parrish, the probation officer explained that Park had approached him and inquired whether Franklin had ever violated his probation. Parrish explained that Franklin had had several minor violations, such as a dirty urinalysis, but none that he intended to file a report of violation on.
“Mr. Parrish told the defendant that the only reason he filed the report of violation was because Mr. Park told him to do so,” Baldwin said.
The complaint also references previous cases in which the Quatmans allege the Flathead County Attorney’s Office, naming Corrigan and Park specifically, used intimidation and coercion to elicit pleas of guilty from suspects. Phyllis Quatman described it as “prosecutorial vindictiveness.”
The complaint also alleges “willful violations of discovery” and accuses prosecutors of withholding key pieces of evidence. At the outset of the Cory Franklin case, Baldwin filed a motion to compel discovery he said was missing, as well as a motion for sanctions against Park for willful violation of discovery.
However, Baldwin stressed that the complaint was less about problems compelling discovery than the issues he raised about intimidation.
“When you have a case where officers who have a sworn duty and obligation to protect the justice system are abusing their power to intimidate or coerce defendants and witnesses, then there will be no justice. The justice system is compromised,” he said.
Though he would not speak to the specifics of the complaints, Corrigan defended his office, describing his team of prosecutors as “very good attorneys who are doing a hell of a job.”
He said the complaint isn’t the first time he’s had to dodge mudslinging.
“Having done this for as long as I have, it is not unique or unusual for a disgruntled lawyer or a disgruntled defendant to file a complaint,” he said.
Baldwin and the Quatmans posted court documents and a narrative of what led to the complaint on their website at flatheadlegal.com.