When Deputy County Attorney Karen Townsend filed papers charging Tom Opre with partner/family member assault in Missoula Justice Court Sunday, Aug. 6, she had no idea she’d be prosecuting a candidate for the state House of Representatives.
Opre, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. Kevin Furey for a seat representing House District 91, which spans much of eastern Missoula County.
Townsend, herself a candidate for the nonpartisan District 4 judgeship, says she didn’t recognize Opre’s name until she read about his arraignment in the daily newspaper Tuesday, Aug. 8, the day after Opre was released from the Missoula County jail on his own recognizance. She says the fact that both prosecutor and defendant are running for office in November’s election has no bearing on the case.
“I guess I just think people have to be treated the same no matter who they are,” says Townsend. “If there is a concern I can certainly hand it off to somebody else. I would not mind doing that. But I don’t see it as a conflict.”
Opre was arrested Aug. 6 after his wife called law enforcement officers following a heated argument at the couple’s Swan Valley home. The woman told an officer Opre grabbed her and tried to strike her in the face, but asked the responding Missoula County sheriff’s deputy not to arrest him. But under the Montana Code, “the summoning of a peace officer to a place of residence by a partner or family member constitutes an exigent circumstance for making an arrest.”
Milt Datsopoulos, the Missoula attorney representing Opre in the case, says he doesn’t expect the incident to impact his client’s intention to run for office.
“I hope he would continue to run,” Datsopoulos said outside the courtroom following Opre’s arraignment. “He’s a very talented guy. Unfortunately he was involved in a family dispute where there was an angry exchange, but there was no physical violence.”
Opre’s next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 4., just a month before the election.