DOJ: News Release

AG: State Not Responsible for Justice Court Defense Costs

HELENA – In a formal opinion released Wednesday, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath held that a recently enacted state law related to payment for court-appointed counsel does not apply to justice court cases.

Treasure County Attorney Gary Ryder requested the opinion, inquiring specifically whether the state or county should pay costs for costs related to defending indigent defendants in justice courts.

A law passed by the 2001 legislature substantially changed the way district courts are funded, shifting most of the costs to the state. That statute did not, however, revise funding for justice courts. It took effect July 1 of this year.

In the opinion, McGrath noted that nothing in the language of the new statute “indicates that the legislature intended to include the costs associated with indigent defendants in justice courts.”

An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the legislature modifies the laws involved.

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