Dissatisfied with law enforcement and the judicial system, some local citizens are organizing this weekend to form common law grand juries in two Montana counties.
Groups in Gallatin and Park counties are part of a larger national movement to create jury panels made up of residents in counties across the country.
But the local prosecutor has significant concerns about the legality of the proposal.
A meeting is scheduled at the Bozeman Public Library at 1:30 p.m. Saturday with a presentation and vote to decide if a common law grand jury should be in Gallatin County, said Averil Heath, who is coordinating the effort. A similar meeting is planned at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Livingston Public Library for a common law grand jury in Park County.
“I believe that justice is not being served, and there is a great deal of corruption taking place and no one is being held accountable,” Heath said. “We were supposed to hold the people accountable and this is the mechanism we were given to hold all branches of the government accountable.”
Heath, who said she has been “very aware of the miscarriage of justice,” contacted the National Liberty Alliance about having a jury of community members who are not overseen by the government. Gallatin County is listed along with other counties on the alliance's website as places where forums are being held to vote on the common law grand jury.
“There is a move to do this in all the counties … in the United States, to return us to common law, which is where we were supposed to be all along,” Heath said.
If established, the panel would consist of 24 people who would present findings to prosecutors, Heath said.
But Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert raised a number of questions about the proposed process.
According to Montana law, a district judge is the only person who can summon or draw a grand jury, Lambert said.
“I can't recall the last time a grand jury was convened in Montana,” he said. “That's not how criminal cases are filed in the state of Montana.”
Lambert said he would like to know who gets to convene a grand jury. If a group of people said it wanted a person prosecuted, Lambert said he, as the county attorney, could decide against prosecution.
“Who is going to prosecute the cases?” he asked.
Lambert said he would also like to know what would happen to the laws regarding the framework for summoning grand juries.
“Representatives and senators have already passed laws that prescribe how you go about dealing with grand juries, so what is to become of those laws?” he asked.
Heath responded, saying that a hired administrator of the grand jury would convene the grand jury. The county attorney would be responsible for prosecuting the cases and could be indicted if he or she refused to prosecute a case.
Heath said a common law grand jury is legitimate.
She explained the decision to empanel such a jury would be up to those who attend Saturday's meeting at the library. If the majority of those who attend vote in favor of the common law grand jury, then it's a go, she said.
So far, Heath said she is the only person involved in the Gallatin County effort. She contacted the National Liberty Alliance about spearheading the effort here. She said she does not know how many people will attend Saturday's gathering.