Settling into his new role, recently sworn-in Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback says the vision for the county’s prosecution office will remain much the same as it was when his predecessor—Jim Thomas—was in charge: First and foremost, to protect the community.
“My vision hasn’t changed,” Fredback told the Express. “In terms of our overall goals, it has been the same as Jim’s and I hope to continue with that.”
Thomas set that course over twenty years in office. He was the county’s elected prosecutor for two decades, serving five elected terms before choosing not to run for reelection in 2020. That opened the opportunity for Fredback, Thomas’ longtime understudy, to take the seat.
“I chose this position because I’ve always wanted it,” Fredback said. “In working with Jim for 15 years, I felt like I gained a lot of experience and he and I became really close in handling a lot of the felony cases. When he decided to step down … I thought that this would be a perfect time for me to try to step into that role.
“I’m lucky to have this opportunity.”
After receiving his law degree from the University of Idaho in 2005, Fredback began working for Blaine County, first as a law clerk to former District Judge Robert J. Elgee and then as a deputy prosecuting attorney, handling most of the county’s felony cases for the past 13 years, according to the office’s website.
Fredback ran unopposed for the seat of county prosecutor in the November elections, and won with 11,320 votes.
“Jim built a great office and I think he did extremely well as the elected prosecutor,” he said. “My goal in a lot of ways is just to continue in that trajectory.”
While Fredback said he’s enjoyed the courtroom experience as the felony deputy prosecutor for the county, he looks forward to his new responsibilities of engaging with the public in his elected position while still working with the county’s civil and criminal prosecutors to ensure the public is being served well, he said.
Assessing the county’s criminal justice system landscape, Fredback said substance abuse continues to be one of the largest criminal categories in Blaine County—something he hopes will diminish over time with continued focus on individuals’ underlining issues and utilization of the county’s specialty courts, including a new DUI court that will begin in a few weeks.
“We’re trying to focus on getting people to help themselves in terms of treatment programs and resources that allow them to stay out of the criminal justice system, and that only works if somebody is willing to work with the programs to try to better themselves.”
Fredback only sees those resources becoming more and more important as time goes on, but says anecdotally that the recidivism rate continues to drop, at least in Blaine County for those who have successfully completed drug court—an intensive 18-month long rehabilitative program offered in the community through the court system.
That said, “If drug court is working harder than the participant, then there are other avenues of the criminal justice system out there to deal with it,” Fredback concluded. “I still think, overall, drug court is having a positive effect. The cases and the people that we have seen complete it successfully, more often than not, are not coming back into the system.”
For now, Fredback said he will continue to use every tool available to his office to maintain protection of society and provide support to victims and their families who are affected by a crime.
“Those are always hard issues to make sure that we’re in constant contact with victims,” Fredback said.
“That’s something that we’ll continue to work on.”