Medical marijuana grower Williams to be sentenced despite new filing

2013-01-31T21:15:00Z 2013-02-01T13:18:04Z Medical marijuana grower Williams to be sentenced despite new filingGWEN FLORIO Missoulian The Billings Gazette
January 31, 2013 9:15 pm  • 

MISSOULA - A last-minute flurry of activity surrounding the case of convicted medical marijuana grower Chris Williams did not halt Williams' scheduled sentencing in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Friday.

On Thursday afternoon, federal Judge Dana Christensen ordered that a sentencing memorandum, dated Monday, from an Ohio State University law professor would not be given the weight of an official memorandum.

Christensen said the memorandum from Douglas Berman, who has raised questions about a plea agreement in the case, was untimely and didn't comply with local rules.

"He is a meddler at best," Christensen wrote of Berman's recent interest in the case. "This is not an academic exercise. Mr. Williams' liberty is at stake."

Berman did not respond Thursday to a telephone call and email seeking comment.

Meanwhile, a group of marijuana advocates was traveling from California to Missoula in a green-painted school bus, picking up people along the way so they could appear in support of Williams at his sentencing.

Among them was Joe Grumbine of Lake Elsinore, Calif., a member of The Human Solution, a group that tries to pack courtrooms on behalf of people accused in marijuana cases.

As of midafternoon Thursday, the bus was midway between Seattle and Spokane and nine people were aboard, he said. Others planned to meet them in Missoula, he said.

"Chris Williams doesn't belong in prison and we need to show support," Grumbine said.

Williams was among several people charged with federal drug offenses after a series of raids on marijuana businesses around Montana in March 2011, and the only one to insist upon a jury trial rather than reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.

He was convicted in September on four counts involving marijuana production and distribution, and four of having a firearm in conjunction with drug distribution. Those convictions carried a mandatory minimum of 80 to 90 years in prison, but a post-verdict plea deal could have dropped that minimum to five years.

According to that deal, if Williams agreed not to appeal his conviction, the U.S. Attorney's Office would drop all but two of the charges and a $1.2 million forfeiture from Montana Cannabis, the Helena medical marijuana company in which he was a partner.

Enter Berman, who recently wrote that the extreme sentence Williams faced amounted to coercion, and expressed a willingness to help Williams. But mindful of Montana state law that says a defendant must reach out to the person first, Berman said he'd never contacted Williams directly.

Still, Williams' federal defender, Michael Donahoe of Helena, tried to withdraw from the case last month, saying that because of Berman's comments, his client had lost confidence in his ability to seek the best sentence. Christensen denied that request.

In court documents filed Thursday, Donahoe wrote that Berman's proposed sentencing memorandum is yet another action that has "interfered with, if not wholly undermined, his attorney/client relationship with Mr. Williams."

Berman's "novel, if not questionable, legal theories ... have zero chance of succeeding before this court," but could still tempt Williams "to abandon, at his peril" the settlement appeal, Donahoe wrote.

"With Amicus like Berman," he wrote, "who needs enemies."

Christensen ordered that Berman's information could be considered along with all the other sentencing materials submitted Friday.

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