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Rowland pleads not guilty in District Court, judge denies motion to disqualify attorney

Crime Watch

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BLACKFOOT – Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland pleaded not guilty to felony charges of aggravated battery and aggravated assault during his District Court arraignment Thursday afternoon.

Rowland appeared before Seventh District Judge Stephen Dunn for the hearing, which lasted about an hour.

Rowland was charged after an incident that took place in front of his home in November, when Rowland allegedly pointed a handgun at a church group of seven girls and their adult leader.

The group was going to the homes of community members and placing “thankful turkeys” on doors. The prosecution contends that after seeing the turkey, a piece of paper cut in the shape of a turkey with a hand-written note, Rowland threatened the woman and girls, even holding a gun to the head of the woman.

The bulk of the hearing focused on the state’s motion to disqualify Rowland’s attorney, Justin Oleson, from representing him in the case. Lead Deputy Attorney General Jeff Nye, acting as prosecutor, previously wrote in a motion that Oleson’s position as Custer County prosecuting attorney legally disqualifies him from serving as a defense attorney.

Oleson has since filed a written brief in response.

RELATED | Prosecutors seek to disqualify defense attorney in Sheriff Rowland case

Dunn allowed each party to provide comments without “regurgitating” what they’ve already filed. Nye focused his remarks on Rule 1.11 of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct, which deals with special conflicts of interest for former and current government officers and employees.

Noting that Oleson has “an ongoing relationship with the government, meaning the state,” Nye argues it is not ethical for him to continue as defense and could interfere with the fairness of the trial.

Dunn asked Nye whether there were any specific prejudices the state would experience should Oleson continue as council for Rowland. Nye could not point to a specific thing.

After listening to both parties, Dunn spoke directly to Rowland, seeking some assurance that Rowland would not use Oleson’s alleged conflict of interest in the case as a reason to file for post-conviction relief in the event he is found guilty.

“If Justin can’t be my attorney, it’s going to take me months to find another attorney,” Rowland said in response. “We’ve been in constant contact with each other. I’m willing to take him as he is. I’ve known him for 25 years. I do not believe there was a conflict. I’m not going to bring it back up to the court.”

Dunn denied the state’s motion, allowing Oleson to retain his role in defending Rowland.

RELATED | Case against sheriff accused of pointing gun at church youth group advanced to district court

After entering his plea, Dunn set Rowland’s pretrial conference for June 23. A jury trial was tentatively set for July 18. Oleson asked for July 25 due to a scheduling conflict, which was a conflict for one of Nye’s witnesses. Dunn said he would be ok with a trial on July 25 if both parties could work it out.

Felony aggravated assault carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Felony aggravated battery carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Although Rowland is accused of a crime, it does not necessarily mean he committed it. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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