BONNERS FERRY, Idaho -- Boundary County Prosecutor Brett Benson, who vowed in September not to resign, agreed to step down on Thursday as part of his plea bargain to a misdemeanor charge of impersonating a notary public.

Benson pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Kootenai County Magistrate Eugene Marano to 180 days in jail, 80 hours of community service in lieu of jail time, a $300 fine and two years on probation. The fine and all but 10 days of the jail time were suspended.

In addition, Benson will be required to make a full disclosure to the Idaho State Bar and accept whatever professional sanction it imposes.

Benson, 33, earlier pleaded innocent to allegations that he signed the name of Gina Fields, a notary public and his former secretary, on a small claims case against him earlier this year.

The charge stemmed from an investigation by a special prosecutor from the office of Attorney General Al Lance, appointed by 1st District Judge James Michaud at the request of Boundary County commissioners.

The criminal complaint was related to a civil lawsuit against Benson involving the private law practice he still runs. A client sued Benson, alleging he failed to give her and her daughter proper legal services after being elected prosecutor last fall.

Sharon Gatherers claimed Benson backdated a document and forged a notary's signature on it to make it look as if he had filed legal papers on time. She took Benson to small claims court, demanding reimbursement of $3,500 in legal fees.

Bonner County Magistrate Debra Heise ruled on Aug. 31 that Benson must pay Gatherers the $3,500 plus court costs.

As part of the plea agreement announced Thursday, the attorney general's office said it would not pursue charges against Benson for allegedly forging another client's signature on a contract for legal services in a civil case.

The criminal charge came on top of controversy surrounding Benson's decision to drop manslaughter charges against FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi for killing the wife of white separatist Randy Weaver.

Benson petitioned the federal court to drop charges earlier this year.

He said too much time had passed since the 1992 siege at the Weavers' Ruby Ridge cabin, and it would be difficult to prove the charge against Horiuchi.

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