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Vanskyock v. Twentieth Judicial District Court

Supreme Court of Montana

May 2, 2017

SANDY VANSKYOCK, Petitioner,
v.
THE TWENTIETH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, HON. JAMES A. MANLEY, DISTRICT JUDGE, Respondent.

          Submitted on Briefs: April 26, 2017

         Appeal From District Court of the Twentieth Judicial District, In and For the County of Sanders, Cause No. DC-12-28 Honorable James A. Manley, Presiding Judge.

          For Petitioner: Andres N. Haladay, Assistant Attorney General, Agency Legal Services Bureau, Helena, Montana

          For Respondent Lance Christopher Pavlick: Lance P. Jasper, Eric R. Henkel, Reep, Bell, Laird & Jasper, P.C., Missoula, Montana

          OPINION AND ORDER

          DIRK M. SANDEFUR JUSTICE.

         ¶1 Petitioner Sandy VanSkyock petitions this Court to issue a writ of supervisory control or other appropriate writ in Sanders County Cause No. DC-12-28, State of Montana v. Lance Christopher Pavlik, ordering the District Court to terminate contempt proceedings against her in that matter. Counsel for Lance Christopher Pavlik has filed a response objecting to the petition and asking this Court to allow the contempt proceedings against VanSkyock to continue.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 The rather convoluted procedural history of this matter began with Pavlik's 2013 entry of guilty pleas to two counts of vehicular homicide while under the influence and two counts of criminal endangerment. On March 12, 2013, the District Court sentenced Pavlik on these convictions to a 30-year commitment to the Montana Department of Corrections (DOC) with all but 10 years suspended, and an additional 10-year suspended sentence for each of his criminal endangerment convictions. The court ordered that the sentences for criminal endangerment would run concurrent to the sentences for vehicular homicide, so that, in total, Pavlik would serve a 30-year commitment to DOC with 20 years suspended. The court did not restrict Pavlik's parole eligibility and recommended that DOC place him in the WATCh program, "providing it meets with the approval of the Department of Corrections."

         ¶3 VanSkyock was the DOC probation officer who prepared the presentence investigation report in the case. After the court sentenced Pavlik to a DOC commitment, VanSkyock requested by standard form that DOC override its usual preliminary placement screening process and place Pavlik directly at the Montana State Prison (MSP). The originally asserted grounds for the override were that: (1) Pavlik's unsuspended 10-year sentence rendered him ineligible by statute for placement at the Missoula Assessment Center (MASC); (2) "the intent of [his] sentence" was that he serve the first 5 years of his unsuspended sentence before "being screened for the WATCh Knights Program"; and (3) "[t]here is much public sentiment about this case and it would be best for all if this offender was transferred to MSP."

         ¶4 DOC MASC/Passages Administrator Dan Maloughney approved the override request and DOC placed Pavlik at MSP. Upon review of the override, acting DOC ACCD Administrator Cathy Gordon: (1) concluded that VanSkyock's initial request erroneously stated that the court imposed a 5-year parole restriction; (2) issued a revised Override & Referral Form stating that the sole reason for the override was that Pavlik's unsuspended 10-year sentence rendered him ineligible by statute for placement at MASC; and (3) directing that VanSkyock's original override request form be destroyed and superseded by the revised form.

         ¶5 Three years after sentencing, Pavlik moved the District Court to hold VanSkyock in contempt and sanction her in her individual capacity on the asserted ground that she contemptuously circumvented or interfered with the authority and sentencing order of the court by requesting the DOC preliminary placement screening override based on falsified information, thereby effectively precluding or delaying his placement in the WATCh program and impeding his parole eligibility. VanSkyock moved to dismiss the contempt proceedings based on lack of jurisdiction, the statute of limitations, and because she cannot be held in contempt for DOC's valid placement decision. The District Court denied her motion to dismiss, and VanSkyock now asks this Court to intervene via supervisory control or other appropriate writ.

         DISCUSSION

         ¶6 Supervisory control is an extraordinary remedy justified when urgency or emergency factors make the normal appeal process inadequate, the case involves purely legal questions, and the other court is proceeding under a mistake of law causing a gross injustice. M. R. App. P. 14(3). We conclude those prerequisites are present in this case.

         ¶7 Pavlik's motion for contempt asserted that VanSkyock "deserves to be held in contempt until such time as this wrong is fully righted" and thus "respectfully request[ed] . . . holding [VanSkyock] in contempt and imposing an appropriate sanction for said contempt" pursuant to "§ 3-1-501, et seq., [MCA]". Pavlik ...


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