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A Flathead hunter becomes the hunted

A hunter's struggle

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A non-Indian woman who illegally shot a deer on the Flathead Indian Reservation in 1997 is bagging her high-profile appeal before the Montana Supreme Court.

But a District Court judge has blasted the move because Charlo-area resident Sandra White Shook wants her criminal sentence deferred, meaning conditions could be dropped if she has no further run-ins with the law.

Court documents show Shook, 55, admitted shooting the deer on private land near Dixon. But she has argued the state regulation prohibiting non-Indians from hunting big game on the reservation was improperly imposed.

Shook, a longtime foe of tribal policies, was ticketed by a state warden after she killed the deer. She was found guilty in Sanders County Justice Court of violating Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission rules and was fined $120. The case was then appealed to Judge C.B. McNeil of Polson.

In District Court, Shook argued that the law is unconstitutional because it’s based on race and contradicts other state laws that say hunting permission can be granted by private landowners.

While admitting several key facts, Shook pleaded guilty to the charge in 1999. McNeil levied a $500 fine, a five-day suspended jail term, and forfeited her Montana hunting privileges for two years. McNeil ordered her to pay the fine within four months, which wasn’t done.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, Shook solicited the help of South Dakota attorney Tom Tobin, a nationally known litigator who fights tribal jurisdiction issues. In February, Tobin told the court his client wanted to drop the appeal. He added that Shook and the state Attorney General’s office would recommend a deferred sentence in the case. In a Feb. 27 order, the high court sent the matter back to McNeil, who replied that the agreement is improper.

“The Montana Fish and Game Department and commission should be mortified,” McNeil wrote. “The precedent that such a result would set could be disastrous. Non-resident hunters, who have paid as much as $300,000 for a Montana governor’s bighorn sheep permit, would be delighted to learn that they can defy [state] regulations, harvest a bighorn ram on Wildhorse Island owned by the state within the Flathead Reservation, and expect that the attorney general will recommend a deferred sentence with no fine, jail time or forfeiture of hunting privileges. Not if this district judge’s judgment means anything.”

The Supreme Court has not yet responded to McNeil’s filing.

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