LIVINGSTON, Mont. (AP) — A Montana judge walked out of a court hearing after being heckled by a rowdy crowd, leaving the conservative former state legislator who instigated it all to declare he was in charge of the courtroom and proclaim the case against him dismissed.
Former Republican Rep. Joel Boniek appeared in Park County's Justice Court on Monday for what should have been a simple scheduling hearing before Justice of the Peace Linda Budeski and Deputy County Attorney Kathleen Carrick.
Instead, Boniek walked into the hearing followed by supporters and questioned the prosecutor's authority in the case.
Boniek, 51, was arrested in July on charges of obstructing a peace officer, resisting arrest and fleeing from or eluding a peace officer. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors say he failed to stop at an emergency roadblock set up near his home in the Paradise Valley during a wildfire.
According to the Livingston Enterprise, Boniek questioned whether the county employees had the proper credentials to handle his case, and he tried to stifle Carrick from addressing the judge.
"Your honor, why is this woman even speaking if she can't prove she's (a public official)?" Boniek said.
The proceedings further devolved when a Boniek supporter became vocal. When Budeski told the supporter he was out of order, the man replied with an expletive and said, "You're out of order."
Others in the crowd joined in, and Budeski suddenly announced that court was adjourned and left. Many people refused law enforcement officers' demands to leave the courtroom.
"The judge has left the room, I'm in charge now," Boniek said.
"No, you're not," an officer responded.
Officers questioned Boniek about a lump under his jacket and asked if they could check to see if it was a firearm. Boniek declined.
Boniek said his case is over in light of Monday's events.
"The judge abandoned the courtroom, and I announced the case dismissed as the last man standing in the courtroom," he said.
But the justice of the peace said the case is still on, just delayed.
Outside the City County Complex, Boniek said his objections are rooted in his interpretation of state law that county officials are required to be bonded and have proof of taking an oath.
Carrick said county officials are insured, which serves the same purpose as a bond.
She also refuted Boniek's other contentions, saying Park County follows state law and fulfills the requirements specified in Montana's legal code.
Boniek represented House District 61, in the Livingston area, in 2009-2010. He also was the running mate to political newcomer Bob Fanning in a losing bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.