Gianforte Profile in Court

Congressman Greg Gianforte stands in the Gallatin County Law and Justice Center in this Chronicle file photo.

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A Gallatin County judge has ordered that U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte must have his mugshot and fingerprints taken as part of his misdemeanor assault conviction.

In a one-page ruling issued Thursday afternoon, Justice Court Judge Rick West ordered that the Republican congressman must report to the Gallatin County Detention Center to provide booking information, including a photograph and fingerprints, no later than Sept. 15.

Messages to Gianforte’s defense team were unreturned Monday, so it is unclear if Gianforte plans to appeal West’s order.

Spokesman Travis Hall also did not say if the congressman will appeal, but said, “Greg remains focused on meeting with Montanans from all of the state’s 56 counties and being a strong voice for Montana in Washington.”

Gianforte, 56, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault for “body slamming” Guardian newspaper reporter Ben Jacobs on the eve of Montana’s special election in May.

The incident happened at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters on Discovery Drive. The Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office briefly questioned Gianforte at the scene before he left. He refused a follow-up interview with detectives.

Later that night, the sheriff’s office charged the then-candidate with misdemeanor assault.

At a June hearing, Gianforte pleaded guilty to the charge.

As part of the six-month deferred sentence West imposed, Gianforte was ordered to complete 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management and pay $385 in fines and fees.

The congressman was also ordered by West to report to the Gallatin County jail for fingerprinting and photographs. The defense objected.

In a formal motion filed after the hearing, defense attorneys Bill Mercer of Billings and Todd Whipple of Bozeman argued that state law doesn’t give Justice Court judges discretion to order fingerprints or photographs of defendants.

While state law does allow a judge to order photographs and fingerprints of defendants charged with felonies or defendants who have been arrested for most misdemeanor offenses, neither was the case for Gianforte.

“Mr. Gianforte’s prosecution does not fall within the narrow group of prosecutions for which courts have the authority to order fingerprinting and photographing,” the defense motion read.

Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert objected to Gianforte’s motion, arguing that Gianforte’s attorneys erroneously interpreted Montana law.

State law does give Justice Court judges the authority to order that a defendant like Gianforte be photographed and fingerprinted, Lambert said.

“Defendant pled guilty to assault. In imposing conditions of (Gianforte’s) deferred term, this Court apparently found that fingerprinting and photographing (Gianforte) was a reasonable condition needed for rehabilitation or for the protection of the victim or society,” Lambert wrote.

“If so, (Gianforte) should obey this court’s order.”

In the brief ruling, Judge West sided with prosecutors, finding that the court does have the authority to order Gianforte to provide fingerprints and photographs.

If Gianforte does not comply, the ruling said, it “shall be treated as contempt of court and a warrant will be issued for (his) arrest.”

While other counties around Montana publicly release mug shots — about 85 percent, according to a survey done by the Montana Newspaper Association — Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert views those photos as confidential criminal justice information and does not publicly release them.

In 2016, District Judge Jon Oldenburg of Lewistown ruled that a booking photo had to be released in a Park County case he was overseeing, arguing that mug shots are public information.

But Lambert said that ruling did not set precedent in the state. “That was not a ruling that in any way addressed the merits of the issue,” he said.

The prior year, Lambert had written to Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, asking for an opinion on the confidentiality of mug shots. Lambert argued that state laws are in conflict and there is no express authority to publicly release mug shots.

“My approach has been to advise the sheriff to restrict dissemination unless a demonstrated exception applies,” Lambert wrote in his 2015 letter.

However, Fox declined to issue an opinion. So Lambert said mug shots here still require a court order to be released.

“My opinion hasn’t changed,” Lambert said.

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Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.

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