Missoula lawyer Milton Datsopoulos, whose legal career dealt with issues ranging from student malfeasance to the core of Montana’s mining economy, has died at 81.
“My sons Kyle and Kevin and their friends back in high school would always say, ‘if you’re guilty, call Milty,” said Dennis Washington, founder of The Washington Companies, who considered Datsopoulos his closest friend for 60 years. They also had a business relationship that helped catapult Washington Companies from a Missoula-based construction firm to a multinational corporate enterprise.
Evan Barrett of Butte recalls that Datsopoulos played a pivotal role as an adviser and confidante to Washington when Washington Companies bought Butte’s biggest copper mine from ARCO in 1985. The mine became Montana Resources and continues to operate as a key contributor to the regional economy.
ARCO had shut down the mines in Butte and times were grim, Barrett said. Datsopoulos helped facilitate and also participated in a meeting at his house in Missoula in August 1985. People joining the discussion about the potential mine purchase included Washington, Barrett, Don Peoples Sr., U.S. Sen. John Melcher and Gov. Ted Schwinden.
Datsopoulos was also instrumental in deals to bring the Butte Water Company into public ownership and Washington Companies’ acquisition of Montana Rail Link.
Datsopoulos died March 12. He was born in Missoula and attended Sentinel High School and the University of Montana. He graduated from the UM Law School with honors in 1965.
Barrett said Datsopoulos was highly regarded by Larry Elison, his former law professor at the University of Montana.
“(Elison) said Milt was the most brilliant student he ever had,” Barrett said.
Datsopoulos formed his own law firm in 1974, which eventually became known as Datsopoulos, MacDonald and Lind P.C. There, he represented a wide range of high-profile, indigent and controversial clients.
He served as attorney for a group of plaintiffs who accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena over decades of sexual abuse, resulting in a 2015 settlement for $20 million and commitments by the church to establish whistleblower protection policies.
That same year, he defended former University of Montana Grizzly football player Beau Donaldson in a rape case, in which Donaldson pleaded guilty.
Family members noted his fondness for holding court after work at Missoula’s Stockman’s Bar on Front Street, where “Milt was the only person to have his own button on the Stockman’s Bar cash register.” Missoula attorney and Washington Foundation Executive Director Mike Halligan recalled running into Datsopoulos there on an afternoon shortly after Halligan had left the state Legislature in 2003.
“He asked, ‘How come you haven’t applied for the government affairs at Washington Corp? You should apply.’” Halligan said. “I’d never worked at a corporation — just as a private attorney or at the courthouse. He said, ‘I’m going to talk to Denny and have him take a look at you.’ At age of 52, it’s hard to get a job out here. I know his recommendation meant a lot.”
The Datsopoulos family reveled in his colorful personal life, noting, “All his life, he drove Jaguars, but he never minded if they were stolen, which they were more often than you can count on your fingers.” He maintained a love of authentic Greek feta cheese, Scotch whisky, Frank Sinatra and the UM Grizzlies sports teams. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Milt’s name to the Grizzly Scholarship Association. Milt’s service will be held on March 26, 2022, at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church at 130 South Sixth Street East in Missoula. Online condolences may be left at gardencityfh.com.
Duncan Adams contributed to this story.