Billings attorney will represent Montana Attorney General in disciplinary charges
When special counsel Timothy Strauch brought 41 counts of professional misconduct against Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen earlier this month, it likely set a record for most charges in a complaint brought by the Office of the Disciplinary Counsel.
Likely, because the office confirmed it doesn’t necessarily track statistics like that.
However, in the days following the charges, Knudsen’s own staff dismissed the charges as “meritless.” On Sept. 7, though, Knudsen appears to have appointed Montana Solicitor General Christian Corrigan to represent him in his case. Corrigan works as part of the Attorney General’s Office and is an attorney paid for by the state.
The Daily Montanan sent a request on Sept. 19, asking for any documents related to the decision to appoint Corrigan, and asking for an explanation about why an attorney for the state was defending the attorney in a matter that only affects Knudsen’s personal ability to practice law.
One spokesperson for the office said the office doesn’t “participate in your liberal blog,” referencing the Daily Montanan.
However, another communications staff leader defended the move as appropriate because the allegations against the attorney general stem from his actions in office.
Even so, shortly after Corrigan entered his appearance, Knudsen change direction and hire attorney Mark Parker of Billings, who has specialized in representing many fellow barristers, including several before the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Parker was out of the office on Wednesday and didn’t immediately return a phone call.
It’s not known whether Parker is contracted through the state or was retained by Knudsen personally.
One longtime conservative attorney who asked that his name not be used because he has matters pending before the Attorney General’s Office said whether to use a state attorney is an interesting issue because part of the allegations center on Knudsen’s oversight of his former chief deputy, Kris Hansen, who is now deceased.
While some of the 41 charges against Knudsen contain allegations that he broke court rules by refusing to follow or obey an order from the state’s highest court, the Montana Supreme Court, other disciplinary charges include that he failed to properly supervise Hansen in her role as deputy attorney general.
That, the conservative attorney said, probably allows Knudsen enough latitude to justify using state employees to defend him, but said it’s a legal gray area.
A cursory review of disciplinary actions taken against attorneys by the ODC show a mix of approaches when it comes to defending against charges. Some attorneys represent themselves, while others hire other counsel. The Daily Montanan was not aware of any case where a state attorney represented a client in an Office of Disciplinary Counsel proceeding.
However, that same review demonstrates that attorneys who work for the government have been disciplined for their performance while on the state’s clock. The bulk of those cases relate to public defenders, but even then, those who were charged mostly defended themselves.
The charges against Knudsen, if upheld, may result in discipline against him up to and including disbarment. The Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Justice, which Knudsen oversees, would not be punished as a result of any action the ODC takes.