Sheriff awarded attorney fees after illegal election recount

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s decision and awarded attorney fees to a sheriff who had to intervene in an election recount after the county approved rules breaking state law.

The state high court made the decision Tuesday that Musselshell County Sheriff Shawn Lesnik would receive fees determined in a lower court, the Billings Gazette reports.

Lesnik won the sheriff election by 41 votes in 2018 against write-in candidate Ronnie Burns, officials said. Burns then requested a recount and the county agreed.

in the agreement, county officials signed off on a special set of vote-counting parameters that contradicted what was legally allowed of a write-in candidate, officials said.

The actions of the county and challenger Burns required Lesnik to go to court to defend the electoral process for the benefit of all Musselshell County voters, Justice Ingrid Gustafson said.

When the county attorney fails to stand up for the people, most people do not have access to a lawyer on short notice to right the wrong, Lesnik attorney Lisa Speare said.

State law doesn’t provide guidance on how to remedy any problems with the original vote count, Musselshell County Attorney Kevin Peterson said.

Elections Administrator Cheryl Tomassi denied any wrongdoing the night of elections.