Two judges withdraw from fraud, conspiracy case against Hamilton pastor

2011-10-27T11:08:00Z 2011-10-27T11:13:49Z Two judges withdraw from fraud, conspiracy case against Hamilton pastorBy LAURA LUNDQUIST Ravalli Republic The Billings Gazette
October 27, 2011 11:08 am  • 

HAMILTON -- Both Ravalli County District Court judges have bowed out of hearing the state's felony case against Hamilton pastor Harris Himes.

District Judge James Haynes officially withdrew from the case on Oct. 11, three business days after Himes filed a motion to disqualify Haynes. Haynes was assigned to Himes' case the week before.

Himes and another man, James "Jeb" Bryant, are charged with six felonies that involve allegations that they swindled an investor out of $150,000 that he'd invested in their company, Duratherm Building Supplies.

In his affidavit, Himes claimed that Haynes would not give him a fair trial because Himes refused to support Haynes in his bid for a seat as a District Court judge. Himes is licensed to practice law in California and is representing himself.

Haynes offered the case to the county's other District Court judge, Jeffrey Langton, who declined it on Oct. 17 because he has had his own run-ins with Himes.

In September 2005, Himes filed a petition for a special election to recall Langton. Himes led the petition drive, but failed to gather the signatures of the required 15 percent of registered voters.

Under Montana law, a motion to disqualify a District Court judge goes to the Montana Supreme Court, which designates a judge to rule on the validity of the request. That process was still in motion on Friday, when Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath designated Missoula County District Judge Karen Townsend to rule on the case.

On Tuesday, Haynes entered an informational filing making it clear to McGrath and Townsend that a disqualification hearing was unnecessary. In the filing, District Judge Loren Tucker of Madison County was identified as the judge who would hear the case.

The trial will still be held in Ravalli County, unless Himes files and succeeds on a motion for a change of venue.

Himes and Bryant were charged Sept. 26 by the state Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. The six felony charges, which included theft, fraud and conspiracy, came after a yearlong investigation into Duratherm Building Supplies, a company that Bryant and Himes own and that supposedly operates out of Mexico.

The co-defendants are alleged to have taken $150,000 from an investor who never received any information about the status of his investment. He also never received any return on his investment, despite promises from the accused men.

Himes was quick to blame the charges on gay and pro-choice activists, and he singled out State Insurance Commissioner Monica Lindeen because of political disagreements that he's had with her.

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