This news story will be the most explosive in decades, and it could turn the tide of Montana state government
Various press outlets have reported, but largely under-reported, a developing scandal regarding the Montana Supreme Court and their refusal to abide by information requests for their email correspondence on publicly-owned servers. But what lies under the surface of the scandal – and what is currently developing – will likely lead to the biggest news story in Montana politics in decades. Ultimately, as this saga continues, the scandal might lead to the impeachment of Supreme Court Justices and the arrest of at least one employee of the court. In the end, Governor Gianforte might be able to appoint new justices to the court, overthrowing the last liberal stronghold in the Montana state government.
As the Helena Independent Record reported on on April 9…
The Montana Supreme Court administrator deleted the emailed results from a poll of judges seeking opinions on a law now being challenged in the Supreme Court, according to documents provided to the Montana State News Bureau….The Montana Attorney General’s Office raised the issue when it included in court filings 18 of the judges’ responses, although its unclear where the office obtained them (HT Montana Talks).
The story begins with the passage of SB140, which provides the governor the power to appoint justices and district judges to fill vacancies and ending the Judicial Nomination Commission. Currently, the Montana Supreme Court is stacked with leftists, with Justice Laurie McKinnon – a moderate conservative – being the sole exception.
Clearly, the left-leaning court took exception to SB140, and a poll was conducted via email (and several by phone) of 37 judges across the state for their position on the bill. In total, 34 judges voiced opposition, and 3 voiced support for the bill. The poll was used to determine how the Court should lobby the legislature through the Montana Judges Association.
In a yet-to-be-disclosed detail, the Attorney General’s office obtained responses from 18 of those judges. The Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, has the job as the state’s top law enforcement officer to defend state laws, including SB140, which was signed by the governor on March 16. After the passage of SB140, a confederacy of RINO and leftist leaders promptly sued the state to overturn the law. Plaintiffs in the case include former Republican Secretary of State Bob Brown (who left the Republican Party because Donald Trump and Steve Daines didn’t wear masks often enough), a former Democratic lawmaker named Dorothy Bradley, a former Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Chairman Vernon Finley, and the Montana League of Democrat Women Voters.
Attorney General Knudsen exposed the poll and asked to stay the case, to keep the court from ruling until the Supreme Court administrator could provide the public emails from the justices on public servers so as to determine who should and should not recuse themselves for bias. Protecting their own interests, the court rejected Knudsen’s request to hold off on the case and ruled in their own favor, despite the evident conflicts of interest.
The ordeal is scandalous primarily and initially because the Supreme Court justices, theoretically, are to remain neutral on matters previous to public hearings and listening to the arguments officially presented. Chief Justice Mike McGrath recused himself from the case because he had personally lobbied Governor Gianforte and Lt. Governor Kristen Juras to veto SB140. Another judge, Silver Bow County District Court Judge Kurt Krueger, also recused himself after Knudsen revealed that he had expressed his bias toward the bill in the poll, prior to hearing the arguments presented.
Meanwhile, several legislative items this session have been aimed at creating an atmosphere of honesty in the nomination and election of justices, to allow – or coerce – them to notify voters whether they lean left or right politically. Liberals, including those on the court, have repeatedly and reliably spurned those efforts, content to keep their bias in the shadows and prevent the public from knowing their presuppositional partisanship.
However, the bias of the Supreme Court Justices and their potentially illegal actions are not the only scandal, and their digging-in for the purposes of self-defense will make their situation escalate from bad to worse.
Staff working for Montana senators emailed Supreme Court Administrator, Beth McLaughlin, on Wednesday, asking to obtain the full results of their poll conducted on public servers. However, McLaughlin emailed the staff back, claiming that she did not retain records. This seems to be in clear violation of Montana law, which has codified the “right to know” in regard to record requests. That the Supreme Court does not retain its email correspondence is a transparency issue that the state’s liberal press outlets would theoretically want to correct.
Montana’s liberal legacy press outlets are currently suing Rep. Barry Usher, for example, for meeting with fellow colleagues in a number that did not reach a quorum to be considered a “public meeting.” Although the lawsuit is simply a way for Montana’s liberal news outlets to attempt to overturn pro-life legislation, they are currently on the record demanding additional transparency. Ironically, they have remained relatively quiet on this Supreme Court email scandal, which has far graver consequences for the right-to-know than Usher’s closed-door meeting only unofficially discussing business in a non-public meeting. As Montana Daily Gazette reported, the press corps lawsuit against Usher would also allow the press into the congressional restrooms and backseats of their automobiles (if two or more are gathered in the same place and same time, and some legislators are married). But the Supreme Court’s refusal to hand over their public correspondence has only received ‘crickets’ from the press corps thus far.
According to the Facebook page Montana House Republicans, Senate President Mark Blasdel and House Speaker Wyie Galt announced a Select Committee to continue investigating the conduct of the judiciary in this matter. Members of the committee include Sen. Greg Hertz and Tom McGillvray, House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, and Rep. Amy Regier. Democrats added to the committee include Sen. Diane Sands and House Minority Leader Kim Abbott.
According to sources speaking to the Montana Daily Gazette, the Select Committee will demand the appearance of Supreme Court Administrator, Beth McLaughlin, and will demand that she bring the court’s email correspondence in tow. If she does not consent to appear and bring the requested documentation, sources report that the committee leadership is prepared to issue a warrant for arrest through the Sergeant-At-Arms, Brad Murfitt.
However, with McLaughlin soon being put into the legislature’s vice, she will be pressed between a rock and a hard place. Clearly, McLaughlin was ordered by the court justices to obstruct the lawful information request. Should she not want to take the fall for obstruction, McLaughlin will need to be forthright with the Select Committee to explain who told her to delete the emails, and why. If that fact is determined, sources have indicated that House Speaker Wylie Galt and other legislative leaders are prepared to draft articles of impeachment against the justices involved.
Should the court continue to refuse the check-and-balance through the legislature, and be impeached accordingly, Governor Greg Gianforte can fill their vacancies, turning a decades-long control of the state’s judiciary to conservatives rather than liberals. Doing so would make Montana a significantly more conservative state, without a liberal judiciary willing to overturn Republican legislation, as they are in the faithful habit of doing currently.
Increasing the likelihood of such an outcome is the fact that the disputed emails, reportedly deleted criminally by McLaughlin at the presumed order of the court, is that emails have mysteriously been released by Aaron Flint of the program, Montana Talks, on NewsTalk 95.5 FM.
Montana Daily Gazette has reviewed the emails, and plans to publish a detailed synoposis later in the afternoon of Thursday, April 15. But it will suffice for now to release these emails to the public for your own review and to simply say that the contents of these emails are astounding and reveal not only extreme political bias and judicial impropriety but very likely, criminality.
Below are the emails between the judges and justices, available below. Note: These are extensive files, and may take some time to review.
As you review these emails, keep in mind the central figures involved. Below are the justices and their biographies.
The Montana Constitution only requires 4 justices but allows up to six. It is comprised of a Chief Justice and five associate justices. Each justice is elected for an 8-year term, with staggered terms so that no more than two justices are elected in any election year. Prior to SB140, vacancies could be filled by the governor, but only from names given him by the left-leaning Judicial Nomination Commission. Now, those appointments can be made at the governor’s sole discretion, supposing they are approved by the Senate during the next legislative session.
A cursory review of the emails (above) by Montana Daily Gazette reveals behavior that could likely lead to disbarring or impeachment for failure to uphold standards of appropriate judicial conduct and evident corruption. Aside from the legal implications of the email contents, it also reveals to Montana voters the extent of liberal control our our judicial branch of government.
The following days, particularly Monday, will be especially important for the State of Montana. The cat is out of the bag, so to speak, on the bias of the judiciary and power rests in the hands of the legislature to end their corruption. All signs point to a legislature that is willing and able to hold the justices accountable for their actions.
[Editor’s Note: Be looking for a thorough synopsis of the emails’ contents later today at Montana Daily Gazette, and hold on to your seat]