Flathead County Commissioner Phil Mitchell’s jury trial has been postponed until Feb. 26, 2018, and a new judge has been called upon to oversee the case.
Mitchell was scheduled to stand trial Monday for the alleged girdling of six cottonwood trees in a county park on Whitefish Lake that caused the trees to die, but 20th District Court Judge James A. Manley, who was set to oversee Mitchell’s trial, recently removed himself from the case.
Ninth District Court Judge Robert G. Olson has agreed to preside over Mitchell’s trial — anticipated to be a four-day jury trial beginning in late February. Olson, who covers Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties, will travel to the Flathead County District Court in Kalispell for the trial.
Mitchell was charged with felony criminal mischief and pleaded not guilty in Flathead District Court on Aug. 31.
However, after a county parks employee discovered the dead or dying trees this summer in the small county-owned park next to Mitchell’s home, Mitchell issued written apologies to county officials for allegedly girdling the trees.
The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office investigated and called in an arborist to evaluate the cost to replace the trees. Sheriff Chuck Curry said the cost was substantial, more than $30,000 to remove and replace the dead trees.