Gianforte Avoids Jail Time In Montana Assault Case
Congressman-Elect Greg Gianforte will avoid jail time for his guilty plea to an assault charge against Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs before the Special Election that elected him to Congress:
Gallatin County Justice Court Judge Rick West ordered Gianforte to complete 20 hours of anger management counseling and 40 hours of community service. He was given a deferred six-month jail sentence. If he does not violate the conditions of his sentence, the charge could be dismissed.
West at first tried to give Gianforte a sentence of four days in jail, which he could have converted to two days in a work program. Work programs, which cut the time of a sentence in half, are not an option in assault cases, however.
“It is not my intent you spend four days in jail,” West said to a small courtroom packed with journalists and some members of the public. “I do not think that would serve the community or the taxpayers.”
West referenced Gianforte’s charitable giving in the Bozeman community and around the state when deliberating the sentence, but also said that Gianforte’s unprovoked attack overshadowed that.
Gianforte’s attorneys objected to the congressman-elect going to the jail to collect booking information. If booked, he would have his mugshot taken. It was unclear if a law passed out of the last state Legislature that gives a judge discretion over if a person is booked applies in this case. Gianforte’s attorneys and Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert will file briefs on the matter this month.
Jacobs, wearing a suit and new pair of glasses that replaced ones broken in the attack, read to the court from a prepared statement. He spoke quietly enough the judge had to ask him to speak up.
Jacobs described the day of the attack, saying he had entered a room to ask Gianforte a question.
“I was just doing my job,” Jacobs said. “Mr. Gianforte’s response was to slam me to the floor and start punching me.”
After the attack, Jacobs said Gianforte then sent an “inflammatory public statement in which he insisted this unprovoked … attack was somehow my fault,” Jacobs said.
When pressed by the judge, Gianforte at first did not give clear details on the assault but later said he grabbed for Jacobs’ phone, ended up grabbing his wrists instead and a “scuffle” ensued where both men fell to the ground.
In the hours after the assault, Gianforte’s spokesman Shane Scanlon sent out a press release saying that Jacobs grabbed Gianforte’s wrist and pulled both men to the ground. Scanlon’s release also called Jacobs a “liberal reporter.”
In his apology letter to Jacobs, Gianforte wrote “Notwithstanding anyone’s statement to the contrary, you did not initiate any physical contact with me, and I had no right to assault you.” Neither Gianforte nor his staff have clarified why a false statement was sent out after the assault.
After court adjourned, Lambert said he was happy with the sentencing.
Last week, Jacobs and Gianforte announced they reached a civil settlement that included Gianforte writing an apology letter and donating $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalist
As I’ve said before, it was unlikely that Gianforte would serve any time in jail given that he has no prior criminal record and has accepted responsibility for his actions. Additionally, the provision of sentencing that provides that the charge could be completely dismissed pending compliance with the other provisions of the sentence is not an uncommon outcome either. Many states have similar provisions for first-time offenders and they are a common part of plea agreements in situations such as this.