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February 19, 2014

Brant Light: Unwaivering Pursuit of Justice

blight2On April 1st, a Glendive jury unanimously found former Billings resident Walter Larson guilty of deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence.  Larson was convicted of killing his ex-wife Susan Casey in April of 2008 and then dumping her body in the Yellowstone River.   Prosecutors on the case were Dawson County Attorney Olivia Norlin-Rieger and Assistant Attorney General Brant Light.

The verdict marked a milestone in the career of Assistant Attorney General Brant Light, 62, who serves as the chief prosecutor in the Attorney General’s Office.  The Larson homicide trial marked Brant’s 31st victory in a homicide jury trial since he began his career as a prosecutor; a most remarkable achievement.  “Brant has won every homicide jury trial that he’s taken on since he began working here five years ago,” said Attorney General Tim Fox.  “The Larson murder trial was a ‘cold case’ that Brant brought back, reviewed, and decided to take to trial.   Brant never shies away from tough cases.”

“Unquestionably, the most satisfying thing for me is helping families of the victims find justice in these cases.”

Preparation for complex criminal cases is a painstaking process for Brant and his team in the Montana Department of Justice’s Prosecution Services Bureau.  Leading up to the Larson trial, Brant worked 15 hours a day for 17 straight days to put the case together, typical work habits of a man who admittedly considers Sunday a workday and is often the first one to arrive at the office in the morning and the last to leave in the evening.

Now consider that Brant is actively battling lung cancer, and his commitment to justice becomes all the more profound.

“Unquestionably, the most satisfying thing for me is helping families of the victims find justice in these cases,” Brant said.  “One of the best feelings in the world is watching the faces of the victim’s family after the verdict is read and knowing that they may find some peace in the fact that there’s been accountability in the death of their loved one.  To continue working after being diagnosed with cancer has been the best thing for me.”

Brant has served as the chief prosecutor in the Montana Department of Justice since December 2008, when he was selected by former Attorney General and now Governor Steve Bullock.  Previously, Brant was Cascade County Attorney for 14 years.   Originally from Anaheim, California, Brant earned a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science from the College of Great Falls.  In 1986, he graduated from the University of Montana School of Law and has remained an avid Grizzlies fan ever since.

Light also serves as Prosecution Bureau Chief in the Attorney General’s Office.  The Prosecution Services Bureau assists local county attorneys by providing training and by assisting in the prosecution of complex criminal cases, particularly homicide cases. It also prosecutes cases where the county attorney has a conflict of interest; prosecutes drug cases and workers’ compensation and Medicaid fraud cases; and investigates complaints against county attorneys.

In addition to handling many high-profile cases, Brant makes it a priority to provide training for prosecutors all across Montana.  His skills as a teacher and mentor have impacted attorneys in various stages of their careers, from new prosecutors to county attorneys to assistant attorneys general.

Dan Guzynski and Joel Thompson, Assistant Attorneys General in the Prosecution Services Bureau, have had the unique experience of working with Brant since they began their legal careers more than one dozen years ago in the Cascade County Attorney’s Office.

“It didn’t matter that I started as the intern,” Joel recalled.  “Brant took the same approach with me as with others on our team, getting to know me as a person and expecting me to put in my best effort.  My first victory was a trespassing misdemeanor case in District Court.  Our office went out and celebrated just like we did after wins in the high profile cases.”

Dan added, “Brant always emphasized the fact that being a prosecutor carries with it a special distinction.  He wanted us to learn the importance of making good judgments and ‘fighting the good fight.’  After prosecutors would pass their probationary period, he’d get them a Cascade County Deputy Attorney badge.  He was the first county attorney in Montana to do that.”

There are two things Brant tells new prosecutors:  “First, the key to being successful is to out-prepare and out-work the other side. That means long hours, and working weekends and holidays if that’s what it takes,” he said.  “Second, a young prosecutor must learn the need to find a balance between being aggressive and being compassionate. There are lots of good people who make mistakes and there’s nothing wrong with showing compassion and helping defendants in those instances become productive citizens. There are also many opportunities to be aggressive in handling violent crimes and repeat offenders to ensure the safety of your community. But again, it’s important to find a comfortable balance,” Brant said.

Even after an amazing string of victories throughout his 27 year career, Brant’s extensive pre-trial preparation routine never varies or lessens.  Most people watching Brant in court would never know that he writes out every question he’s about to ask witnesses, or that he’s stayed up an entire night studying data crucial for the next day’s trial.  “Brant never takes anything for granted,” Joel said.  “I’ve never met an attorney who works harder than Brant Light.”

Brant’s equally as passionate about his family and almost equally so about U of M’s Grizzlies.  He and his wife, Noella, are the proud parents of twin sons and two daughters, all grown.  For nearly twenty years, the Lights have had season tickets to Griz football games, and have attended every home game in Missoula.  Brant recalls he and Noella have only missed a single game, and that was to attend the wedding of one of their daughters.

Respected by defense attorneys and judges alike, Brant had formed solid friendships over the years with attorneys across Montana.  Most of them would agree that it’s hard to picture him doing anything else, even while battling cancer.  “I’ve heard it said that if you love your job, then it’s really not going to work,” Brant reflected.  “That’s how I feel. I have a great passion for what I do. If I can continue to help the Attorney General and victims in Montana at the high level that I have set for myself, then I want to continue to do what I love.”