Missoula attorney Josh Van de Wetering has filed an “out of time appeal” to the Montana Supreme Court on behalf of his client, former doctor Chris Christensen, after missing the deadline for filing an appeal in the case.
Christensen was convicted of 22 felonies, including negligent homicide, for over-prescribing opioids, and sentenced to 20 years in prison with 10 years suspended. But sentencing was stayed and Christensen was released on bail pending an appeal of the jury verdict to the Montana Supreme Court.
When it came time to file the appeal, however, Van de Wetering made a mistake. Although the filing was timely, it was filed in the wrong court. As a result, the County Attorney’s office asked the District Court for an order revoking Christensen’s bail, a lifting of the stay of execution of the Court’s judgment and Christensen’s arrest without bail so that he could begin serving his sentence. Deputy Attorney Thorin Geist argued that Christensen had violated the bail conditions by not filing a timely appeal in the Supreme Court.
Christensen was arrested and appeared in District Court last week for his bond revocation hearing. At the hearing Van de Wetering took full responsibility for the error. He stated that he had made an error in filing his appeal in the District Court instead of at the Supreme Court as the rules require. He apologized for the error and said, “Dr. Christensen himself is in no way the cause of this error and should not suffer for it.”
He said that the issues in the case and those under appeal were novel in Montana law and that a refusal to permit an appeal would subject his client “to a gross miscarriage of justice.” He asked that his client be released without bail pending an answer from the Supreme Court on the out of time appeal.
Geist argued for the state that such an appeal was only allowed “in extraordinary circumstances that do not include mere mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect.”
After some deliberation and questioning, Judge Jeffrey Langton settled on what he called a compromise solution in which the current hearing on bond revocation would be continued until June 6, giving the Supreme Court time to act on the “out of time Appeal.” In the meantime, Christensen would remain incarcerated without bond.