MILES CITY – Compelling arguments and debate over mandatory reporting laws were the focus of attention on Friday in Custer County District Court as parties met for summary judgment hearing ahead of a civil trial surrounding a massive Miles City sex abuse case.
The issues debated in court focused on whether the district is responsible for Jensen’s conduct and if the district is accountable for not protecting victims.
This portion of the case is now in the hands of Judge Nickolas Murnion.
Former Miles City athletic trainer James Jensen, 79 was not in court Friday.
The question is whether the Miles City Unified School District was aware of sex abuse reported by Jensen’s victims and whether Montana law in place at the time prevented the district from having to report instances of sex abuse.
Attorney for the district, Jeana Lervick said the law at that time applied to cases of abuse by a parent or guardian.
“Our argument is that the statute at the time wasn’t something that we could have complied with,” said Lervick. “It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have or didn’t want to it’s just meant as a matter of law, we couldn’t have complied with it because that’s not what it was at the time.”
However, attorneys for the 32 Plaintiffs in the case said Montana case law says otherwise. Attorney John Heenan said a public school district has an obligation to keep children safe.
“Mandatory reporting is there for a reason. The law says that there certain people because they’re in trust position with our children, that if they see something going on if they see a child being harmed if they see potentially being abused they have an obligation to let law enforcement know,” said Heenan.
In addition, Lervick said the district had no responsibility for Jensen because he was a volunteer for the district up until a certain point
Heenan said there are three documented accounts of abuse by victims that were reported to the administration and that the administration looked the other way.
The judge will make a ruling in the coming weeks ahead of trial.
Jensen has already admitted to federal charges related to the case. He did that back in March in a Missoula federal courtroom.
He also faces state charges in Custer County for possessing child pornography.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News