A woman accused of breaking into her former tenant’s home and shooting him twice has appealed a civil case to the Montana Supreme Court that the two have been embroiled in for more than two years.
In her brief to the state’s high court, Diana Arnold, 58, asks that a judgment from Gallatin County District Court be reversed on the basis that she was denied her right to a new trial.
Arnold is in the Gallatin County jail on $1 million bail awaiting trial for charges of attempted deliberate homicide and aggravated burglary. She is accused of breaking into the trailer home of Henry and Kathleen McDunn on May 30 and shooting Henry twice.
The McDunns are Arnold’s former tenants. They moved into Arnold’s Bear Canyon basement east of Bozeman in June 2008, paying a $1,200 security deposit at the time.
During the about eight months they lived there, the McDunns said in court documents that Arnold came into their apartment when they weren’t there, permitted a “severe and dangerous” mold problem to persist in the apartment, was loud and shoveled snow onto their walk.
Despite sending a complaint letter to Arnold, the McDunns said, she didn’t remedy any problems, so they moved out. After vacating, Arnold didn’t return the $1,200 security deposit and requested the couple pay more than $5,000 in damages.
The McDunns sued Arnold in Gallatin County Justice Court in August 2009, requesting $1,300, attorney’s fees and any other relief the court saw fit.
In November of that year, Judge Wanda Drusch ruled in the McDunns’ favor, awarding the couple more than $7,000, which included attorney’s fees.
The next month, Arnold appealed to Gallatin County District Court. The McDunns added a new claim for “intentional and negligent misrepresentation.” Arnold added claims for violations of the Montana Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. As part of the case, Arnold filed a motion to exclude any reference to testimony or evidence given in Justice Court, which was denied.
After a two-day trial, District Judge Mike Salvagni on May 21 also sided with the McDunns, awarding the couple more than $1,400 for the disputed security deposit. Attorney’s fees of just more than $20,000 were also awarded to the McDunns.
In a brief filed with the Montana Supreme Court on Oct. 30, Arnold’s attorney, Chuck Watson, wrote that former testimony and evidence from Justice Court were referenced about 68 times in the District Court trial. The McDunns’ counsel questioned Arnold, one of her witnesses and the McDunns on recollections of testimony from Justice Court, Watson said.
Arnold’s right to a blank slate was “completely sabotaged,” Watson wrote. It put Arnold at an “extreme disadvantage” and put her on an unequal footing to the McDunns in District Court, Watson wrote.
Allowing the new claim of intentional and negligent misrepresentation “opened the flood gates” to former testimony from Justice Court, Watson argued. The effect was Arnold had to defend her credibility and character in District Court based on Justice Court proceedings, during which she was unrepresented by counsel, Watson wrote.
Watson asked the Supreme Court to reverse the District Court ruling and return the case to Gallatin County for a new trial.
Arnold’s criminal trial in the shooting is scheduled for five days starting Feb. 11 in District Judge John Brown’s courtroom.
Whitney Bermes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.