Hill County Attorney announces resignation, ordered to appear in court

The Hill County Attorney has submitted her letter of resignation after a controversial tenure of less than two years, citing a family illness as the reason. (Havre Herald)

(Havre Herald) Hill County Attorney Jessica Cole-Hodgkinson, who is ordered to appear in court for not showing up to hearings, said today that she has submitted her letter of resignation, citing an illness in the family as the reason. According to an office employee, Cole-Hodgkinson hasn’t been in the office in two weeks.

Her resignation, she said in a text message this afternoon, is effective Monday morning at 8. “That will give me time to wrap up a few remaining responsibilities,” she said.

The soon-to-be former county attorney is ordered to appear in District and Justice courts to answer for a combined 10 hearings for which she did not appear.

On Tuesday, District Judge Daniel Boucher issued seven orders for Cole-Hodgkinson to appear in District Court Aug. 2 to give reason as to why she didn’t appear to seven different hearings. Four of the hearings were judgment hearings for Robert A. Hutson and three were omnibus memorandum hearings —  post-arraignment hearings that determine the evidence of a case — for two other defendants.

On Wednesday, Justice of the Peace Judge Audrey Barger issued three orders for Cole-Hodgkinson to appear in Justice Court Aug. 7 and give reason as to why she didn’t appear to court for three different hearings. One of the cases, five charges against a Theodore Edward Bear including felony driving under the influence of alcohol – fourth offense, was dismissed. It was dismissed without prejudice, meaning the charges can be refiled.

Cole-Hodgkinson was asked twice today if she will show up to the August court dates. She did not answer the question.

Cole-Hodgkinson, who did not run for re-election this year, was appointed November 2016 by the county commissioners after former county attorney, Gina Dahl, left in the middle of her second term to take a job in Yellowstone County.

Cole-Hodgkinson was embroiled in controversy within months after taking over.

In March 2017, an assault victim sued the county for $1 million on the grounds of gross incompetence on the part of Cole-Hodgkinson after charges against a felony offender were dismissed. Boucher later dismissed the complaint and the charges were refiled and taken over by the Montana Attorney General’s office, and the offender was sentenced for seven years with the Montana State Prison.

In September 2017, Boucher dismissed multiple felony cases because of various reasons relating to Cole-Hodgkinson’s unpreparedness.

During an April 24 Democratic forum at Montana State University-Northern, Hill County Commissioner Peterson said hiring Cole-Hodgkinson was the “biggest mistake of my life.”

Today, Peterson declined to comment on Cole-Hogkinson’s resignation and said reporters can show up at a meeting Monday morning at 8 a.m.

Cole-Hodgkinson said today that she wasn’t planning to leave until after the November election, but in April she found out her mother had a deteriorating medical condition. “My mom rearranged her life to care for me when I went through cancer treatment, and now I get to repay her,” she said.

She said she believes the incoming county attorney, Karen Alley, who beat local attorney Randy Randolph in May’s Democratic primary elections, is in a good place to take over now. (Republicans did not file a candidate against Alley in the November election.)

“Since June, Ms. Alley has already had a substantial increase in her responsibilities,” Cole-Hodgkinson said. “She has found two new deputy attorneys, and I am confident she is in excellent position to take over at this time.”