Cascade County Attorney Scrutinized Over Student Prosecutors

The complaint filed Friday accuses John W. Parker of professional misconduct

By Dillon Tabish

GREAT FALLS — The state Supreme Court Commission on Practice lodged a complaint against the Cascade County attorney for allowing law school graduates who failed the bar exam to work as prosecutors under the “student practice rule.”

The complaint filed Friday accuses John W. Parker of professional misconduct, the Great Falls Tribune reported Tuesday. It names three people who worked in the county attorney’s office and represented themselves as deputy county attorneys though they were no longer students and did not pass the bar exam.

The student practice rule allows those who have completed two-thirds of their education to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Law school graduates are also eligible until they learn the results of their first bar exam.

Parker declined to comment on the complaint. He has 20 days to file a response with the commission.

Parker submitted an op-ed piece to the Tribune in June about his office’s interpretation of the student practice rule and a recent meeting with district judges.

“Although we had previously believed we were following the rule correctly, upon further review, we believe the judges have the correct interpretation,” Parker wrote. “With that in mind, we have changed our internal policies for the attorneys operating under the student practice rule.”

In August, District Judge Greg Pinski admonished Parker for continuing to employ the law school graduates after they failed their exams.

Defense attorneys in two cases sought to have charges dismissed against their clients, but the cases moved forward.

Pinski ordered the county attorney’s office to write letters of apology to the court and to jurors, the defendant and the defense attorney in one case. He also ordered the office to pay just over $1,250 in attorney’s fees for defense lawyers in both cases.