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ND woman, in jail on theft charges for more than a year, still awaiting trial

WILLISTON, N.D. - A New Town woman who's been behind bars in Williston for a year and a half on dozens of felony theft and other charges may go to trial next month.

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Brittany Foote in the Williams County Correctional Center, where she's awaiting trial on dozens of theft, burglary and other charges. Elizabeth Hackenburg / Williston Herald

WILLISTON, N.D. – A New Town woman who’s been behind bars in Williston for a year and a half on dozens of felony theft and other charges may go to trial next month.

During a court hearing on Thursday, District Judge David Nelson set a deadline of Monday afternoon for prosecutors to shift the court docket in order to allow Brittany Foote to stand trial in mid-February. If the rescheduling isn’t done by the end of the day, Nelson said he will lower her bond so that she can afford release until her trial.

Because of a series of legal fights and maneuvering, the trial date is currently scheduled for Dec. 19 – which would be almost 2 ½ years after her arrest, although a “backup jury trial” date of April 25 is set as well.

“You start to feel invisible”

Foote, 30, was booked into the Williams County Correctional Center on Aug. 15, 2014.


Her arrest made headlines due to the sheer number of charges she’d racked up during alleged burglary streaks in June and August. Foote was charged with 37 crimes, 34 of them felonies, for taking credit and identification cards, cash and other items from numerous homes and cars in Williston.

The list of charges included drug, theft, burglary and theft allegations.

Authorities handcuffed her after a homeowner on Ninth Avenue East caught her in his basement, where the homeowners struggled with her until Foote claimed she was having an asthma attack. The man’s wife dumped Foote’s purse out in search of an inhaler, but instead found numerous stolen items, including her purse, which helped investigators tie Foote to a rash of break-ins.

Foote’s $150,000 bond was eventually cut to $75,000, but the amount remained unaffordable for her.

She’s been out of the corrections center just once, when the number of women inmates skyrocketed in the fall, and she was transferred to Montana for about a month.

Now, she’s hoping to move out of limbo to face whatever is coming next.

“I just want to get out of this place,” Foote said Friday in an interview at the jail. “I just want to know what’s going to happen next.”

An admitted heroin addict, she suffered through withdrawals in her cell after her arrest. If she’s sentenced to jail time, she’s hoping to be sent to Tompkins state prison in Jamestown, where there is help for inmates struggling with chemical dependency.


Foote, whose father is taking care of her 8-year-old daughter, said after a while, it started to feel as though time stopped behind the windowless concrete walls of the jail.

“It just feels like you get lost, you feel like they forgot about you. You start to feel invisible, kind of like a ghost walking around here,” she said.

Attorney troubles

From the beginning, Foote’s progress through the justice system was slow. In late summer 2014, her case was assigned to Nicole Foster, a local defense attorney who seemed to have a good reputation. Before long, though, it was clear that something was wrong.

Despite the $2,000 Foote says she and her father paid Foster as a retaining fee, the attorney was almost a complete no-show, and by May 2015, Foster had been suspended from practicing law in North Dakota by the state supreme court’s disciplinary board.

Foote says she was among a number of people who’d filed complaints claiming that Foster failed to attend court dates, file papers and communicate with clients, that she requested hearings to be rescheduled on short notice, and kept fees in exchange for little to no work.

By April of last year, the disciplinary board noted that one of Foster’s clients reported that her Williston office appeared vacant.

Records show that hearings were scheduled twice for Foote to plead guilty in April, but the dates were canceled because Foster was unavailable.


The next month, Foster was suspended from practicing law in North Dakota, and Fargo-based defense attorney Monty Mertz took over Foote’s case.

Requests and responses

Last August, Foote requested a bench trial, or one that would be decided by a judge without a jury. A day later, Williams County prosecutor Nathan Madden filed an objection to the request, mandating that Foote be tried by jury.

Then, a trial scheduled for Nov. 30 was canceled and reset for more than a year later after Mertz insisted on a five-day trial rather than the allotted two days.

The next day, Mertz filed a “speedy trial request,” or one that demands the case be addressed quickly.

Madden objected, writing that because Mertz wanted a lengthier trial than what was previously agreed upon, the request to speed things up would be hard to accommodate.

“The expected delay in rescheduling became a reality with the trial being scheduled for the week of Dec. 19, 2016,” Madden wrote.

He also pointed out that the speedy trial request, which should be made relatively soon after a person’s arraignment, was more than six months tardy, and blamed delays in the case on Foote’s attorneys.


“The request for a five day (trial) added another year onto the case, a request which again originated from the defense,” he wrote.

Mertz fired back on Jan. 14 by submitting a motion to dismiss the charges against Foote, claiming the state’s attorney’s office violated her right to a speedy trial, and accusing it of failing to prosecute her in a timely manner.

He went on to ask that if Foote’s charges aren’t dismissed, Madden’s objection to her previous request for the case to be tried in front of a judge be overruled, and a bench trial scheduled as soon as possible.

During Thursday’s hearing, Nelson responded by setting Monday’s deadline.

In a brief written to support his request, Mertz claims that Madden has dragged out Foote’s case by not responding to his attempts to settle on a plea deal, and “for no good reason, (making) an objection to Foote’s waiver of her right to a jury trial….It is difficult to identify any legitimate basis for a prosecutor to refuse to consent to a bench trial.”

Mertz did not answer questions beyond relating what happened in the courtroom Thursday afternoon, and Williams County State’s Attorney Marlyce Wilder declined comment on the case as well.

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