The Montana Supreme Court has dismissed a complaint alleging a former deputy county attorney lied to law enforcement about the county attorney, her former boss, misappropriating funds.
Joni Oja, a Custer County deputy attorney from 2008 to 2013, was the subject of a disciplinary complaint filed with the state Supreme Court’s Commission on Practice in July 2016. The complaint was dismissed in June.
According to the complaint, Oja told the Miles City Police Department chief, as well as a captain, that she had heard the county attorney, Wyatt Glade, had misappropriated funds — roughly $13,000 in 2007 and $15,000 in 2013. The police chief said he’d need to report that allegation to the Division of Criminal Investigation.
When interviewed by DCI agents, Oja said she’d heard third-hand from a county commissioner about the possible misappropriation of funds. Oja said she’d heard this from a man named Jack Larson, who’d heard it from Vicki Hamilton, a county commissioner at the time.
The DCI agent then interviewed Larson and Hamilton, both of whom denied making any such statement.
In a phone interview Thursday, Oja said she stands by her earlier statements that Larson told her that Hamilton was worried Glade was misappropriating funds.
“I do stand by the fact that he conveyed it,” she said. “I don’t know whether that’s true or not.”
Oja made the statements about Glade’s possible misappropriation of funds in January 2015, roughly eight months after losing to him in the race for Custer County attorney. Glade won with 67 percent of the vote, to Oja’s 33.
Oja quit her job in 2013, but denied that she did so after her relationship with her boss became contentious.
However, Oja had earlier told investigators that the fall of 2013 was roughly “during the time that things were not going well in the county attorney’s office between Wyatt and I.”
Oja told investigators she had received a call from Jack Larson, a mutual friend of she and Hamilton. Larson told her that Hamilton had discovered the county attorney had obtained extra money that she believed was for “the cost of extra prosecution” and was not intended to go solely to Glade’s salary. Hamilton, the county commissioner, was concerned about it and contacted the Montana Association of Counties, Oja said.
“ … But that, that’s the information I got from Jack Larson,” Oja told investigators.
In its complaint against Oja, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel said that she made the statements about the integrity of a public legal officer even though she knew they were false, or that she made the statements with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.
After a hearing with Oja and the disciplinary office in April, the Commission on Practice unanimously concluded that the disciplinary office had failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Oja violated professional conduct rules for Montana attorneys, as alleged in the complaint.
The commission recommended the Supreme Court dismiss the complaint, which it did on June 6.
“I believe the unanimous decision from the Commission on Practice and the Supreme Court speak for themselves,” Oja said, “and I’m thankful for a just result.”
Glade did not immediately respond to a request for comment.