BILLINGS -- The Montana Office of the State Public Defender is under investigation by the state Human Rights Bureau for age discrimination.
Montana Department of Labor and Industry Staff Attorney Timothy Little confirmed the filing Thursday.
Little said he could not say for sure when the complaint was filed, although it was recent enough that an investigator has not yet been assigned, which can take up to two months.
Once an investigator is assigned, the office has about 180 days to investigate and determine if the complaint should proceed to a hearing.
It is unclear who filed the complaint, though Little confirmed that David A. Duke, the former regional deputy chief defender in Yellowstone County was not the complaining party.
The state defenders office confirmed last week that Duke no longer worked for them. Little said his office may produce the complaint once both parties involved in the suit are contacted for permission.
Chief Public Defender William Hooks did not return calls from the Billings Gazette for comment. The public defender’s office of Region 9, includes Yellowstone, Carbon, Big Horn and Stillwater counties.
Hooks said earlier he couldn't comment about Duke's sudden departure from the office because the privacy of an employee is more important than the public's right to know. Erik Moore, an attorney in Duke's office, was fired last August, apparently after missing several court appearances that had to be rescheduled.
As many as 20 of Duke's active cases have yet to be transferred to Deputy Chief Public Defender of Region 7 Douglas Day, who is serving as interim director while the office searches for a replacement. While Day said he would be reassigning cases, as well as taking some on himself, the Yellowstone County District Clerk's Office has no record of any notices of reassignment being filed.
Among the people awaiting new defense council is Daniel Joseph Degele, accused of raping a toddler. Degele is undergoing a mental health evaluation at the Montana State Hospital to determine where he will be incarcerated. Degele pleaded guilty due to a mental disease or defect and potentially could be committed to the Department of Health and Human Services depending on his mental status. His sentencing is set for August.
A theft case, in which the defendant was represented by Duke, was set for sentencing on March 21. The sentencing was rescheduled.
Yellowstone County District Court case numbers from 2015 show one of the largest case loads in the court's history. The departure of the Region 9 Deputy Chief Public Defender came at a busy time for Yellowstone County, which handles the largest case load in the state.
In addition, the entire state defense attorney system is undergoing a full budget overhaul in order to account for its budget increases.
In 2015, Gov. Steve Bullock agreed to give the public defenders office an additional $2 million to fund the office through to the next legislative session. During the same session, Bullock assembled a task force to look into the office's spending. They will be entering the new legislative session without a predetermined budget and will have to justify all spending to the legislature.
Duke was appointed to his position in 2008 by then-State Chief Public Defender Randi Hood. At the time, Duke replaced Billings attorney Kris Copenhaver, who was deputy chief for two years. Duke worked several high-profile cases in Yellowstone County, including the serial rape trial of Toby Griego and multiple murder trials. His office was strained by a growing caseload.