Pinocci arrested, released, on misdemeanor; disputes validity of court warrant

By: - September 12, 2023 3:42 pm

(Photo illustration by Getty Images.)

Randy Pinocci, a Public Service Commissioner, said he is fighting a July 5 disorderly conduct ticket from a tenant dispute and said his recent arrest at a home improvement store was the result of a miscommunication with the court.

But Pinocci, a Republican elected to the PSC in 2018, also said Cascade County Justice Court never should have issued a warrant for his arrest.

A copy of the arrest warrant provided by his lawyer said Pinocci failed to appear in court.

He was arrested last week at Home Depot in Great Falls while choosing paint, said Ben Reed, of Delli Bovi, Martin and Reed in Helena.

Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter confirmed Pinocci was booked in the jail at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and released at 4:18 p.m. the same day.

But Pinocci and his lawyer said they do not believe the warrant was justified and described the series of events that led to him being jailed.

“I’ve never been arrested in my life or been charged with anything, but this is, I think, a ridiculous waste of time and effort,” Pinocci said. “There are more important things for officers to do than this.”

Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci was arrested for failing to appear in Cascade County Justice Court on a disorderly conduct citation. (Provided by the Cascade County Sheriff’s Office.)

On July 5, Pinocci said he called law enforcement to intervene in an argument at a walk-through of one of his rentals. Pinocci said he asked his tenant to fix a window the tenant admitted he had broken, and the tenant’s brother pushed Pinocci.

The ticket described the violation as “quarreling, challenging to fight, or fighting, namely by getting in (alleged victim’s) face and bumping chests during an argument and yelling.”

Pinocci said the brother told law enforcement Pinocci was being argumentative, and both he and the brother received citations. But Pinocci said his renter, “a great tenant,” admitted he broke the window.

“I’m the one that made the 911 call saying you can’t push the landlord,” Pinocci said.

He also said he is overweight, and therefore, unable to “chest bump.” Pinocci responded to questions about the ticket and arrest last week and this week.

Reed said the court set a hearing date for Pinocci that coincided with a trip Pinocci had planned to travel to eastern Montana to talk with constituents about proposed utility rate increases.

The July 5 ticket said Pinocci should appear “on or before July 6.” On July 6, Pinocci requested the court postpone his hearing, and the court granted the request, his lawyer said.

However, Reed said the second hearing, Aug. 7, also coincided with Pinocci’s business for the PSC.

The PSC regulates monopoly utilities in Montana, and it had been holding public hearings this summer on controversial rate increases proposed by Montana-Dakota Utilities. 

Reed said Pinocci also had been holding his own meetings with constituents in eastern Montana.

On Aug. 4, Pinocci’s lawyer submitted a second request for a postponement (the date on the letter wasn’t updated; it said July 6 like the first letter).

Extensions are granted on a regular basis in some courts.

Reed said he should have followed up and confirmed the court had granted the request, but he did not do so. He also said he later learned Cascade County Justice Court routinely grants only one extension.

Pinocci said he never received a response to his second request for an extension; his lawyer said he did not receive correspondence to that effect either.

The Montana States News Bureau said the court denied that request.

In the meantime, Reed said Pinocci was dealing with an eviction case in a separate and ongoing dispute in the same court.

Around Aug. 21, Pinocci talked with Justice Court by phone and in person about the separate case, Reed said. In the course of those conversations, he said Pinocci told Reed he asked the court if he had any other business to take care of with the court: “Is there anything else?”

A warrant signed by Justice of the Peace Eric Bailey had been issued Aug. 9 for his failure to appear in the disorderly conduct case with bail set at $500.

But Pinocci said when he asked the court if he needed to do anything else, Justice Court did not tell him he was in trouble with the law.

Pinocci said to the Daily Montanan: “Don’t you think they should have said, ‘By the way, we have a warrant for your arrest?’”

Pinocci responded to a question about why he never showed up in court despite the original July 5 demand for his appearance with his own questions about the case.

He also said he doesn’t believe commissioners elected to the PSC would put themselves in such a vulnerable position with the court as to risk arrest: “There’s no way I would do that.”

On Sept. 6, Pinocci was arrested, and he appeared in Justice Court on Sept. 7 and pleaded not guilty.

Reed said he himself should have verified the status of Pinocci’s case with Justice Court. Reed previously worked as a lawyer for the PSC and said he became acquainted with Pinocci there.

However, Reed also said he wishes Pinocci had received better information when he inquired about his case with Justice Court.

“I would have hoped there would be systems in place to keep this sort of thing from happening,” Reed said.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana.