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County attorney seeks sanctions against state public defender's office

by SCOTT SHINDLEDECKER
The Western News | June 24, 2022 7:00 AM

Following a recent mistrial in the case of a Troy man accused of stealing thousands of dollars from people across the country, Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris is seeking sanctions against the Montana Office of the Public Defender and two of its attorneys.

According to court documents filed Tuesday, June 21, in the Lincoln County District Court, Boris filed a motion for sanctions and payment for nearly $10,000 that it cost the county to hold the trial involving defendant Steven Edward Grable, 56. Part of the costs included nearly $4,000 to bring in witnesses from Great Falls and Marion as well as Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Reno, Nevada.

Grable was on trial June 13-15 in Libby for the alleged theft of thousands of dollars from people he promised to build log furniture for and didn’t deliver.

Boris, in her motion, argued that the conduct of Grable’s attorneys, Liam Gallagher and Keenan Gallagher, forced a mistrial.

On the third day of the trial, while Grable was being questioned by Liam Gallagher, Boris objected to the mention of business records of about 17 people, not previously disclosed, the defendant had either completed projects for or for whom he provided a refund because the information had not been disclosed before the trial, according to a mistrial order filed by Judge Matt Cuffe on June 16.

Cuffe wrote in the order that “he (Grable) testified from his memory and without objection. However, in response to follow-up questions from his attorney, the defendant testified he did in fact have business records confirming these complete projects and refunds. He (Grable) further testified he provided those records to his attorney.”

When Cuffe asked Grable about the records, he testified that he had provided them to his attorneys at one of his first full meetings with him. At that point, Boris asked for a sidebar conference. All the attorneys, Grable and Cuffe left the courtroom for about 26 minutes and went into Cuffe’s chambers.

According to Cuffe’s mistrial order, Boris argued the records hadn’t been disclosed. Boris asked Cuffe to strike Grable’s testimony that he possessed business records confirming his testimony about the previously undisclosed 17 people and that he provided those records to his attorney. Boris also asked Cuffe to tell the jury the testimony was being stricken because of the failure to disclose the required information.

Liam Gallagher argued that because the documents were not offered as exhibits, they were not being used, and were not required to be disclosed. But Cuffe disagreed and believes the business records should have been shared with the county attorney.

According to Montana Code Annotated 2021, the prosecution and defense attorneys are required by law to provide evidence to the opposition prior to trial so it can be examined.

In his mistrial order, Cuffe wrote that he considered Boris’ request to strike Grable’s testimony and advise the jury of his failure to share the records before determining there was no way to ask the jury to disregard the testimony, that if true, would severely undermine the state’s case, and if false, would severely undermine Grable’s credibility.

In court documents filed in Boris’ motion for sanctions, Cuffe wrote that “this is beyond anything that I have ever seen or dealt with in 5 1/2 years and all the trials.”

The judge also wrote “I think we just wasted a whole bunch of people’s time who committed to do this because we got more interested in playing games than taking care of business.”

In an email, Liam Gallagher wrote “Due to the judge issuing sanctions against our agency, Keenan and I will not be commenting.”

But Brett D. Schandelson, the acting Director/Development and Operations Bureau Chief of the state Public Defender’s Office, did say his office was aware of the motion and that it would respond through the legal system.

“Sanctions motions are somewhat uncommon and mistrials can be contentious when they occur just because it’s an adversarial system,” Schandelson said. “The county attorney is entitled to her feelings, but we have to let it play out and see what happens.”

Boris said Grable’s attorneys have two weeks to file a response to the motion and then she’ll have two weeks to respond to it.

Boris, who has practiced as a prosecutor in Mineral and Lincoln counties for more than a decade, said she’s never filed a motion for sanctions against a defense attorney.

But it’s been a little more than a year since Lincoln County saw a mistrial where a defense attorney was ordered to pay for the costs of a nine-day trial involving Kip Hartman, of Idaho.

Boris was part of the prosecution team that included then Commissioner of Securities and Insurance, Troy Downing.

Lincoln County District Court Judge Matt Cuffe ordered Shandor Badaruddin to pay for the costs of the trial after he determined the attorney had intentionally caused delays.

In the Grable case, the parties are scheduled to return to district court at 1:30 p.m. Monday, June 27, for a status hearing to determine the future of the case.

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Liam Gallagher in the Flathead County District Court in 2020. (Daily Inter Lake FILE)

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Montana 19th Judicial District Judge Matt Cuffe swears in Lincoln County Attorney Marcia Boris in the County Courthouse Wednesday. (Ben Kibbey/The Western News)