A last-minute flurry of activity surrounding the case of convicted medical marijuana grower Chris Williams did not halt Williams’ scheduled sentencing in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Friday.

On Thursday afternoon, federal Judge Dana Christensen ordered that a sentencing memorandum, dated Monday, from an Ohio State University law professor would not be given the weight of an official memorandum.

Christensen said the memorandum from Douglas Berman, who has raised questions about a plea agreement in the case, was untimely and didn’t comply with local rules.

“He is a meddler at best,” Christensen wrote of Berman’s recent interest in the case. “This is not an academic exercise. Mr. Williams’ liberty is at stake.”

Berman did not respond Thursday to a telephone call and email seeking comment.

Meanwhile, a group of marijuana advocates was traveling from California to Missoula in a green-painted school bus, picking up people along the way so they could appear in support of Williams at his sentencing.

Among them was Joe Grumbine of Lake Elsinore, Calif., a member of The Human Solution, a group that tries to pack courtrooms on behalf of people accused in marijuana cases.

As of midafternoon Thursday, the bus was midway between Seattle and Spokane and nine people were aboard, he said. Others planned to meet them in Missoula, he said.

“Chris Williams doesn’t belong in prison and we need to show support,” Grumbine said.

Williams was among several people charged with federal drug offenses after a series of raids on marijuana businesses around Montana in March 2011, and the only one to insist upon a jury trial rather than reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.

He was convicted in September on four counts involving marijuana production and distribution, and four of having a firearm in conjunction with drug distribution. Those convictions carried a mandatory minimum of 80 to 90 years in prison, but a post-verdict plea deal could have dropped that minimum to five years.

According to that deal, if Williams agreed not to appeal his conviction, the U.S. Attorney’s Office would drop all but two of the charges and a $1.2 million forfeiture from Montana Cannabis, the Helena medical marijuana company in which he was a partner.

Enter Berman, who recently wrote that the extreme sentence Williams faced amounted to coercion, and expressed a willingness to help Williams. But mindful of Montana state law that says a defendant must reach out to the person first, Berman said he’d never contacted Williams directly.

Still, Williams’ federal defender, Michael Donahoe of Helena, tried to withdraw from the case last month, saying that because of Berman’s comments, his client had lost confidence in his ability to seek the best sentence. Christensen denied that request.

In court documents filed Thursday, Donahoe wrote that Berman’s proposed sentencing memorandum is yet another action that has “interfered with, if not wholly undermined, his attorney/client relationship with Mr. Williams.”

Berman’s “novel, if not questionable, legal theories ... have zero chance of succeeding before this court,” but could still tempt Williams “to abandon, at his peril” the settlement appeal, Donahoe wrote.

“With Amicus like Berman,” he wrote, “who needs enemies.”

Christensen ordered that Berman’s information could be considered along with all the other sentencing materials submitted Friday.

Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, gwen.florio@missoulian.com, or @CopsAndCourts.

(4) comments


I am neither pot smoker, nor ever have been, I don't care if others do it in the privacy of their homes but, This is the reason why I didn't jump on the bandwagon of being a " provider " when it was approved by state law, I have yet to ever see a state law override a federal law, ever, I knew this was going be trouble down the road , many of my friends & family suggested I become a provider, being out of work yes still having the resources on my property, I was deathly afraid of losing it all to the feds when they became fed up < pardon the pun > of their law not being applied to, hence I nixed the whole idea although now family and friends said I was smart. Hindsight, funny thing huh ? Folks, you have to think before you react , if it seems too good to be true ? it is, that state law wasn't legal and now you all know, If the feds don't like it ? stop what you are doing if they have it on the books, they will get you, no matter what other horrific crimes YOU think they should be chasing instead.


I'm not a pot smoker either, and this guy is being used as an example of the U S justice Dept against states rights. Where in the blooming H E double toothpicks are the loudmouth Republicans who shoot off their pieholes about states rights,...but when the rubber meets the road are too chicken to come out and defend their so called "states rights agenda." The justice dept should quit wasting our money and time trying to defend a stupid law. If you don't have anything for your agents to do then lay them off ,or better yet, change their assignments to something that makes sense. Let this guy go. I don't want to pay for someone to spend 5 years in prison for something that is not a crime in MT.


I am not a pot smoker either, but this guy was operating a business under the rules established in the state of Montana and the feds are coming in and saying basically, well you can't have voters decide what they want in their own state. We will overrule you and your idiotic votes. The weapons charge is a different matter but he was operating a legitimate business under state law and should not have been prosecuted for this. Especially with all the shootings in Chicago and around the country and the Wall Street execs who are allowed to walk away with no prosecution after stealing from their clients and companies. Seems very hypocritical and I am really disappointed in Obama for not having his priorities straight in this matter.


I'm not a pot smoker but I think this is a total lack of "justice" and a personal issue with the judge.

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