Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Livingston actress/activist Margot Kidder arrested at the White House


Actress and activist Margot Kidder, of Livingston, was reportedly arrested on the steps of the White House today. Kidder, dressed in black in the photo above, was in Washington as part of a two-week protest to push the Obama Administration to deny Canadian oil giant TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline. Kidder is active in the group Montana Women For. She was photographed holding a sign that said “Montana Women For An Oil Free Future.” 

kidder arrested

Kidder, best known for her role as Lois Lane in the Superman movies, was arrested fellow actress Tantoo Cardinal (in orange), who starred in Legends of the Fall and Dances with Wolves.

According to the Canadian Press:

Canadian actress Margot Kidder was among the latest slate of environmentalists to be arrested outside the White House on Tuesday, handcuffed and sent to jail on the fourth day of a two-week civil disobedience campaign against TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline.

Kidder, born in Yellowknife but now living in Montana as an American citizen, was arrested alongside fellow Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal by U.S. Park Police for refusing to vacate a White House sidewalk.

Just as dozens of others have since Saturday, Kidder and Cardinal were charged with failing to obey an order governing protests on the sidewalk, police said. They were expected to be released later Tuesday.

"We're the first state the pipeline goes through," Kidder, 62, best known for playing Lois Lane in four "Superman" movies, said before her arrest.

She marched from Lafayette Square, directly north of the White House, to the sidewalk lining the northern edge of the presidential residence along with three other women who described themselves as "Montana grandmothers."

"It's bound to leak, there's no way it's not going to ... they always assure us these things are safe, and they never are safe," Kidder said.

Friday, August 12, 2011

AP: DOT head resigns over daughter's job

Associated Press statehouse correspondent Matt Gouras is reporting Gov. Brian Schweitzer asked MDT Director Jim Lynch to resign after discovering that Lynch’s daughter was hired by the department.

From the AP article:

Schweitzer confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that the abrupt resignation was over concerns that the hiring of Lynch's daughter, Emily Rask, could violate state nepotism laws. Rask holds a post in the agency's human resources department.

"I became aware that he had hired his daughter. I spoke to him about it and said, 'Jim, this is a clear violation of the nepotism law,'" Schweitzer said. "On that basis, I asked for his resignation. He had an interpretation that it is acceptable. I said, 'Look, this is not acceptable.'"

Lynch had a somewhat different explanation of events:

Lynch told the AP on Friday that he is the one who offered his resignation. He also said that both he and Schweitzer agreed the hiring did not amount to nepotism under the state law.


Lynch said he did not get personally involved in the hiring that took place about four years ago, and he said he made sure it was all done correctly.


Lynch said he was surprised the hiring became an issue after such a long time. He said he stayed out of the decision-making process, and said his daughter was hired on merit in a normal hiring process.

"When I heard that she was applying, I reviewed it with the legal department and human resources and they said it was acceptable for her to apply for the job," Lynch said. "Quite frankly, that was the end of it for me.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with what we did, we followed the process."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

MDT Director Jim Lynch resigns

Director Jim LynchMontana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch abruptly resigned Thursday after 6 1/2 years as head of the agency.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed Lynch shortly after taking office in January 2005.

Lynch said he gave his resignation letter to Schweitzer Thursday morning. The three-sentence letter said little, only that Lynch decided to resign to "pursue other opportunities."

Schweitzer appointed the department's chief legal counsel, Tim Reardon, to take over as director effective immediately.

"The time was always going to come," Lynch said in an interview Thursday. "When you work for the governor there always comes that time when you can leave, and when it is a good time to leave."

Lynch said he wasn't able to make plans for life after his term as director while still serving in that role.


"There were a lot of questions of me while I was director about what I was going to do next. You can't answer those, and you can talk about them, and you can't plan them while you're still a state employee," Lynch said.

Lynch, a former Kalispell businessman, is rumored to be considering a run for governor. Lynch didn't close the door on that possibility.

"I think this gives me an opportunity to evaluate (a possible gubernatorial campaign) and evaluate what opportunities are out there both in the public and private sector," Lynch said. "I'm just going to take a deep breath and sit back and take my time. I'm not in a hurry to make any decisions one way or the other."

In an e-mail press release announcing the resignation Schweitzer thanked Lynch for his "service and commitment to the state and the people of Montana."

“I wish him well as he moves back to the private sector," Schweitzer said. "Jim was always one of the first people on the scene to any road incident; he was always willing to lend a hand in our towns and communities with snow removal or gravel roads and was a great advocate for highway safety.”

Schweitzer did not comment on why Lynch resigned.

MDT has come under scrutiny over the past year for the agency's handling of ExxonMobil's controversial proposal to haul hundreds of massive Korean-built tar sands processing modules from Lewistown, Idaho, along the Rocky Mountain Front and on to the Kearl oil fields in northern Alberta.

Lynch told the Interim Revenue and Transportation Committee in a 2009 hearing that the company was proposing a "permanent high and wide corridor" across the state to service the Canadian tar sands. Lynch later backed off that statement saying that current project is a one-time only proposal.

Critics of the project say MDT failed to adequately study the potential cultural, environmental and economic impacts of such a project.

Last month District Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda upheld a request by Missoula County and three conservation groups to stop Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil from transporting the megaloads through the state.

Lynch said the Kearl Module Transportation Project had nothing to do with his decision to resign.

"That's what's nice about Montana, we have the (Montana Environmental Policy Act) process in place to deal with these kinds of projects," Lynch said. "That issue will continued to be played out and it won't be over anytime soon, but that's just one of many aspects that we deal with at MDT."

Lynch said this is a "great time" for him to leave the department.

"There was always going to have to be a time that I have to walk away," Lynch said. "We're delivering a great program. We're sound, we have a fund balance in our program and a great staff at MDT that work hard for the people of Montana."

Tim Reardon, Legal ServicesReardon, an Anaconda native, has been MDT's chief legal counsel since June 1994.

Gov. Ted Schwinden in 1981 appointed Reardon to serve as a workers' compensation judge, a position he held for 10 years. Prior to that appointment Reardon worked as an attorney in the division of workers compensation and worked in the Department of Health and Environmental Sciences. He received his bachelor’s degree from Carroll College and his juris doctorate from the University of Montana.

Reardon will continue to make $99,984, the same salary he is currently making. Reardon is married and has four kids and four grandkids.

“I am honored to have Tim on the team as the director of the Department of Transportation,” Schweitzer said. “I have every confidence in his ability and know he will serve the people of Montana well.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Observations, reactions from the Beach hearing

_RNS0165If there was one thing nearly everyone in the Fergus County courtroom could agree on this week it was that District Judge Wayne Phillips conducted Barry Beach’s evidentiary hearing in a balanced manner.

_RNS0183“As complex as this case was for us, it was equally complex for the judge,” said Assistant Attorney General Brant Light, one of the prosecutors representing the state in the case. “I think he was very balanced in this matter.”

                                                                                                                Fergus County Judge Wayne Phillips

Beach is the 49-year-old Poplar man convicted of  the 1979 killing schoolmate Kim Nees. Beach has long maintained that his confession to investigators in Louisiana — the only evidence tying him to the crime — was coerced.

Over the years Beach offered a theory that a gang of jealous females killed Nees in an assault that got out of hand. This week his legal team — for the first time — got a chance to present that theory to a judge. Beach hopes that Phillips will find the evidence convincing enough to order a new trial.

For nearly three days, Beach’s lawyers examined witnesses who gave testimony that bolstered Beach’s claim of  innocence. One woman testified that she heard the “horrific” screams of multiple girls the night Nees was murdered. Other witnesses told the court that, over the years, three women admitted to playing a role in the crime.

_RNS0077Meanwhile attorneys for the state sought to poke holes in that testimony. They called  the trustworthiness of Beach’s witnesses into question and fought back attempts to enter hearsay evidence into the record. Prosecutors brought their own witnesses, including the former Roosevelt County undersheriff who originally investigated the murder, to dispute Beach’s “gang-of-girls” theory.

Beach’s attorney Peter Camiel
Along the way, Phillips sustained and overruled dozens of objections by both sides. At some points, the judge seemed to be more favorable to the defense’s arguments, and at other times the state’s arguments appeared to hold sway.

At one point, Beach’s lawyers won a series of arguments related to the admission of evidence. _RNS0131The state opposed allowing certain written statements into the record, but Phillips overruled Light on three occasions. Light belied his cool confidence by slapping his hand down on the table and falling back into his chair, shaking his head in frustration.

Assistant Attorney General Tammy Plubell

Beach’s legal team had their share of frustrating moments, too. Time and time again they tried to convince the judge to allow testimony from University of San Francisco professor Dr. Richard Leo, an expert on false confessions. However, the judge rebuffed those efforts and Leo was not allowed to testify. The judge also denied Beach’s request to recall a witness after later learning new information stemming from his testimony. The judge refused, on the grounds that the defense had ample opportunity to ask the  questions during cross-examination of the witness.

1_RNS0042Some of Beach’s supporters were worried prior to the hearing that Phillips might not give Beach and the new evidence a fair shake.

“All we can hope for is that he listens to all of the evidence and considers it carefully,” said Bobbi Clincher, Beach’s mother, before the hearing.

Left: Beach’s mother, Bobbi Clincher

Phillips was the third judge assigned to hear Beach’s petition for post-conviction relief, and he scheduled this week’s hearing more than a year after he was assigned the case.  Prior to the hearing no one knew going into Monday if Phillips would allow witnesses from Beach’s amended petition to testify. Some people, including members of Beach’s legal team, were concerned that Phillips might refuse to hear the new evidence.

However, Phillips heard from nearly all of Beach’s witnesses over the course of 2½ days. 

“I was very satisfied with the way this hearing was conducted and I am thankful to Judge Phillips,” Beach said in a jailhouse interview after the hearing concluded. “I thought he was patient and open to letting both sides present their very best case. Judge Phillips turned out to be everything I had been informed he was: fair, patient, and open minded to everything both parties presented.”


Robert “Bobby” Atkinson is the brother of Sissy Atkinson, one of the women Beach’s witnesses accused of playing a key role in Nees’ murder. Robert Atkinson, who was on the Poplar Police Department at the time of the murder, sat quietly in the courtroom gallery all three days. He was one of the few of the 30 or so people in the audience who was not there to support Beach, though Atkinson doesn’t appear to have any harsh feelings toward the man who has repeatedly accused his sister of murder.

During a break in the hearing Wednesday Robert Atkinson told The Associated Press he agreed that evidence in the murder case was mishandled . He also said Beach may not have had a fair shake at his original trial, and that Beach probably has served enough time in prison for the crime.

Robert Atkinson also said he believes Beach killed Nees largely on Beach's confession.

Robert Atkinson said he also does not believe his sister, Sissy Atkinson, who lived a rough life as a drug abuser, was involved. However, he speculated, that she might have taken credit over for the killing over the years as a way to bolster her credentials among a tough crowd.

"She likes that reputation," he said.

Sissy Atkinson told the AP that she never took credit for Nees’ murder.

Glenna Nees Lockman, Kim Nees’ older cousin, spent two days at the hearing, at times sitting next to Clincher. After the hearing  Lockman said she came to Lewistown to support Beach, whom she said she believes is innocent. Lockman was adamant that she was speaking only for herself, and not for the Nees family.

“I was very satisfied with how this hearing went,” Lockman said. “I guess the only disappointment was that (former Roosevelt County Undersheriff) Dean Mahlum remembered every detail that might have helped the state, but couldn’t seem to remember anything for the defense.”

Peter Camiel, Beach’s lead defense attorney, said he also was pleased with how the hearing went.

“Going in we didn’t know if he (Phillips) would let us present any of our new witnesses,” Camiel said. “We’ve got a very hard-working judge who has taken this case super seriously.”

_RNS0070Jim McCloskey, founder of Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey-based group that has been working to free Beach for more than a decade, said he feels very good about the week’s developments.

McCloskey consults with Beach

“I think our witnesses were believable, credible and they all had the opportunity to present their story to the court that shows that Barry is completely innocent of this crime, and played no role in it,” McCloskey said. “We look forward to the judge’s ultimate decision down the road.”

Both sides will present briefs to the court on or before Oct. 14. Phillips said he hopes that by Thanksgiving he will make a ruling on whether to grant Beach a new trial, or call for another hearing to hear Beach’s constitutional claims.

Light called this week's hearing "very, very unusual."

"We may not see another hearing this is many years," Light said. "Now this part is over, but we believe there will be another hearing."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

BREAKING: Roosevelt Co. Sheriff charged with assault in Lewistown

The Great Falls Tribune has confirmed that Roosevelt County Sheriff Freedom Crawford was involved in an altercation at a downtown bar early Tuesday morning that resulted in one man being transported to the emergency room with cuts to his face.

Crawford and other Roosevelt County Sheriff's deputies are in town for the evidentiary hearing of Barry Beach, the man convicted of the 1979 beating death of Poplar teen Kim Nees. Roosevelt County deputies are providing security at the Lewistown Courthouse. Beach's hearing was moved from Roosevelt County to Fergus County. 2011-08-02_11-50-13_549

According to Lewistown Justice Court records, Crawford was charged with assault, obstructing a peace officer, disorderly conduct and criminal mischief stemming from the altercation. All are misdemeanor offenses. Lewistown police officers located Crawford at the Yogo Inn hotel, at 211 East Main Street, at approximately 12:33 a.m. He was not arrested.

According to incident report, Lewistown police officers responded to a call from a bartender at the Montana Tavern at 202 West Main Street at 12:21 a.m. reporting that an adult male subject "threw an adult male through the front window of the tavern." According to the report, the man, later identified as Crawford, fled the scene barefoot in the direction of the Yogo Inn.


Update: Lewistown PD Press Release

The report states that the victim, who suffered "serious cuts to his face," was traveling through town on his way to Sturgis.

No other information was immediately available.

A call to the Roosevelt County Sheriff's Office was not immediately returned. Crawford was not at the Fergus County Courthouse Tuesday.