Montana Supreme Court won’t hear ex-Hill County attorney’s appeal

Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson during her Aug. 7 contempt hearing. (The Havre Herald)

(The Havre Herald) The former Hill County attorney who was found guilty of three counts of contempt may have exhausted her final plea. On Tuesday, the Montana Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson to reverse a local judge’s Aug. 7 contempt findings.

The state Supreme Court apparently agreed with Hill County Justice of the Peace Judge Audrey Barger who wrote in her Motion to Dismiss that Cole-Hodgkinson’s appeal to the Supreme Court was unlawful because “contempt orders are not appealable.” Any other review the embattled former county attorney could’ve filed with the Supreme Court was quashed because she missed the 30-day deadline to do so.

“We conclude that this appeal is not properly before this Court,” the Supreme Court justices say in their Order to Dismiss.

The appeal is dismissed with prejudice, meaning the order is final and Cole-Hodgkinson cannot refile.

Cole-Hodgkinson was found guilty of contempt by Barger on Aug. 7 for not showing up to Justice Court hearings July 16, 18 and 25.

During the contempt hearing, Cole-Hodgkinson maintained that she did not know about the hearings and that they were the responsibility of then-Deputy Attorney Karen Alley, who is now the Hill County attorney. Barger was not swayed by Cole-Hodgkinson’s argument. Alley had notified the judge that she could not be involved in those cases because of a conflict of interest related to her time as a public defender and that she had told her then-boss.

Barger found Cole-Hodgkinson guilty of three counts of contempt of court and ordered her to six days of house arrest and to pay $1,500 in fines. She was also barred from practicing law in Barger’s court for a year, unless she represented herself.

Before trying to appeal to the Supreme Court, Cole-Hodgkinson submitted in September a petition to District Judge Daniel Boucher for a review of Barger’s judgment. Boucher upheld Barger’s judgment.

Cole-Hodgkinson’s 19-month tenure as county attorney was rife with controversy and the fodder of much bad publicity. She took over the county attorney position November 2016 and her official resignation was effective July 30.

According to the Voluntary Resignation Agreement between her and the county commissioners, obtained by The Havre Herald, she received over $49,000 — through the duration of her term Dec. 31 — to resign. The agreement says Cole-Hodgkinson and county officials had a falling out and the agreement’s purpose was to “induce” her to resign.