Chouteau County Attorney Steve Gannon


February 5, 2020

Steve Gannon, Chouteau County Attorney

Steve Gannon is originally from the south of Sun River. He moved to Big Sandy and worked with Tom Sheehy on defense work. While he was in Big Sandy, he lived in the country south of Sibra's. Steve grew up in the country and loves country living. "I miss Big Sandy, but Fort Benton is a great town. He was elected to Chouteau County Attorney in 2003, which means he has served for 17 years. Each time Steve is elected, it is for four years. He is currently in this period for two years.

Steve was prepared for my interview and had read the interviews of the previous departments. He commented, "Politics should not be a part of this office." His job description is found in the Montana Code Title 7, Chapter 4, Part 27. The county attorney is to be the legal adviser of the county and other subdivisions. He is the legal advisor of the board of county commissioners. He must attend their meetings when required and must attend and oppose all claims and accounts against the county, which are unjust or illegal. He must defend all suits brought against his county. The county attorney must give when required and without fee, his opinion in writing to the county, district, and township officers on a matter relating to the duties of their respective offices. He is to act as counsel, without fee, for fire districts and fire services areas in unincorporated territories, towns, or villages within the county. When a conservation district requests him, he is to act as counsel, without fee, and when requested by a county hospital board act as counsel, without fee, unless the legal action requested involves the county commissioners.

Steve is also responsible for all prosecutorial duties.

He is required when requested by the attorney general of the state of Montana to work on state matters in district court.

Steve had his budget ready for me, as well. It is $142,600. Of course, the majority of the budget is personal service or salaries both for himself and his legal secretary, Rosanne Lindeman "She's good!" His salary is public information. However, I found it interesting that the county pays half of his salary, and the other half of his salary is paid for by the state of Montana. There are 15 line items in his budget. "I ask the county commissioners to set the budget for the amount of money I believe I need, but they review

the request and approve or make a different recommendation."

Steve told me the most challenging part of the job is the breadth of it. He said, "because we don't focus just on criminal cases. We don't just focus on civil cases. The county commissioners will bring me questions and different boards, hospitals. Keeping up with it is challenging. Every legislature tinkers with the law. It can be challenging, but I can be rewarding. I'm learning all the time."

Mental commitments happen quickly, evaluations need to be done quickly. It's a crisis situation.

"Sometimes you don't see people at their best in this office. Sometimes it is criminal, and they need to face the music, but they made a mistake. I prosecuted a young man, a young man charged with burglary, and I gave him a break. He went on, and he made something of himself. He stops in and sees me now and then. Not everybody needs to go to jail or prisons, but sometimes they do."

We reviewed a few cases. The County Attorney doesn't always decide if charges will be brought. Sometimes it is decided higher up at the district or the state level. The biggest trial attendance was the one by the environmentalist who damaged oil pumps. His defense was a defense of necessity; however, he was found guilty. He's trying to have that retried.

I wanted to interview Rick Cook, the Clerk of Court, but he was out sick. Sheriff Vern Burdick was on his annual fishing trip. So, I'll have to follow-up this interview with the rest of the legal departments at a later date.


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