The Justice Department resolved a two-year-old standoff with the prosecutor in Missoula, Mt., in what was originally a dispute over accusations that local prosecutors weren’t doing enough to prosecute rape cases, reports NPR. The issue turned into a test of federal power to impose reform on local prosecutors. Ot looks like Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenberg prevailed. Justice Department officials had accused local authorities of soft-pedaling sexual assault cases. To avoid a federal lawsuit, the University of Montana agreed to a program of greater sensitivity to rape and sexual assault, and city prosecutors and Missoula police agreed to make reforms.
Van Valkenberg defied the Justice Department and sued it in federal court. “They never once reached out – never once in two years – reached out to work cooperatively with me in this matter,” he said yesterday. Van Valkenberg signed an agreement with Justice acknowledging that the county attorney is obliged to develop new policies for handling sexual assault cases. The reforms will take place under the authority of the Montana attorney general, not the Department of Justice.