Yes, the justices and their adminstrator could be in big trouble, and that might be a game-changer in Montana politics.
A SUMMARY OF EVENTS
Shortly after midnight last night, Montana Daily Gazette released an explosive article with a brief synopsis of the Montana Supreme Court’s refusal to hand over their public emails related to a poll taken of both justices and district judges around the state about their views on SB140, which would allow the governor to appoint judges without the assistance of the left-leaning Judicial Nomination Commission. As SB140 became law after it was passed by both chambers and signed by the governor, liberals sued the state, claiming the bill was unconstitutional.
Defending the law, as is his job, Attorney General Austin Knudsen became privy to the poll, which would indicate that justices were biased on SB140 and did not wait to form opinions from the arguments presented them. Two justices – the chief justice and then his replacement – eventually recused themselves, reluctantly admitting their bias. However, the Supreme Court administrator, Beth McLaughlin, refused to turn over the poll’s findings or emails, claiming that they had been deleted, leaving the Attorney General’s office without the necessary information to determine the bias of those who did not recuse themselves. In actuality, McLaughlin deleted the emails after they were requested and to this day has refused to hand over what should be publicly available information.
Meanwhile, Senate President Mark Blasdel and House Speaker Wyie Galt announced a Select Committee to continue investigating the conduct of the judiciary in the matter and have requested the public documents from McLaughlin and inquire who on the court told her to obstruct justice. Reportedly, if McLaughlin does not abide by their requests, an arrest warrant will be issued through the Sergeant-at-Arms. Ideally, McLaughlin will blow the whistle on which justices are involved, which could very well lead to their impeachment in the Montana House. If they are impeached, thanks to SB140, Governor Gianforte can appoint their replacements.
Montana’s legacy press (its older newspapers, print media, and television news) has yet to report the significance of this developing story (which is why you read Montana Daily Gazette and subscribe to our daily email news updates called The Insurgency).
THE EMAILS AND THEIR CONTENTS
Four batches of emails from the Supreme Court justices and their poll were released by Aaron Flint of Montana Talks. It is unknown how he acquired them, but these are some of the very emails that the Supreme Court refused to make available. As promised earlier this morning, Montana Gazette has reviewed these emails and will give a summary of their contents, as well as highlight some more notable exchanges.
Over-all, 37 judges responded to the Supreme Court’s poll, with 34 opposing SB140 and 3 supporting it. But beyond that bias, the emails reveal extreme corruption, antipathy toward regular Montanans, and severe breaches of the code of conduct required of judges.
EMAIL BATCH 1
To see these emails yourself, click here.
Most interesting from Batch 1 is a poll of justices and district judges on HB342, a bill sponsored by Matt Regier (R-HD4), which would make races for Supreme Court Justice partisan elections. Of the 22 judges who responded to that poll, 22 opposed the legislation. It is very, very important to the judges to appear non-biased and non-partisan.
However, as you will see from these emails, the judges are not unbiased and they are very, very partisan.
The batch also contains an email from Lorrie Cole, the judicial assistant to Chief Justice Mike McGrath, who notified Supreme Court administrator Beth McLaughlin, that Judge Kreuger – who replaced Chief Justice McGrath on the court after he recused himself for bias – that John Dennison informed them that an email exists which demonstrates that Kreuger also was biased against SB140. Dennison is the chief political reporter for MTN News. The email – sent April 1 – notified McLaughlin of Kreuger’s bias.
EMAIL BATCH 2
To see these emails yourself, click here.
It’s in the second batch the court’ss antipathy, hatred, and arrogance toward the legislative branch of government is shown most fully. Consider, for example, Beth McLaughlin calling a bill sponsored by Sen. Theresa Manzella “stupid from the start” and maligning the Attorney General.
Mussleshell County Judge Randall Spaulding suggested, on account of Manzell’as bill, that legislators should only go to work once every ten years, be given only ten bills to propose, and be paid ten dollars per day.
The emails show Chief Justice Mike McGrath engaged in active lobbying efforts against bills that he is constitutionally bound to remain impartial about until hearing in his official capacity (see below).
Trying to “pick off some votes” and interfere in the legislative process is a big no-no for justices, who are to remain impartial. Again, McGrath engages in lobbying against bills that one day he will put on his robe, call himself neutral, and rule upon.
The bill that McGrath wanted to oppose (above) is HB685 (then, LC3213), which was sponsored by Rep. Brad Tschida (R-HD97). The bill, promoted by the Montana State Council on Judicial Accountability, would revise the Judicial Standards Commission which is theoretically supposed to hold judges accountable. Unfortunately, judges sit upon the commission and toss roughly 98% of the complaints brought against their peers. The bill was defeated in its second reading in the Montana House, but had it passed, largely would have cleaned up corruption in the judiciary.
As though it were a perfect case-in-point, McGrath – above – can been seen using judicial corruption to defeat a bill designed at stopping judicial corruption.
In fact, McGrath’s bias couldn’t be clearer in the released emails (see below).
Oddly, it seems like the Supreme Court is using a lobbying firm, Northbound Public Affairs. An email from the firm’s founder, Rebecca Meyers, reveals that she was working on behalf of the court to scuttle the judicial accountability bill.
Meyers is indeed registered as a lobbyist with the state (see below).
Meyers appears to be representing the Montana Magistrates Association from filings with the Secretary of State.
Notice the talking points the court passed around to each other to lobby against SB318, which would hold them accountable for bad rulings.
EMAIL BATCH 3
To see these emails yourself, click here.
Notice that Beth McLaughlin states the biggest problem with HB685 would be allowing Citizens to review the judicial conduct of judges (see below).
McLaughlin and the court, of course, prefer that foxes guard the henhouse, and desire the judiciary to police itself because the average, ordinary citizen plebes cannot handle the task of holding the judiciary accountable.
Kelly Mantooth, the Justice of the Peace in Lewistown, communicating with McLaughlin and their lobbyist, Rebecca Meyers, gave a playbook for opposing the bill.
Bruce Spencer, a government relations attorney who acts as a lobbyist for the court, spoke rather openly about caucusing with Democrats and “providing them cover.”
Mike Menihan is a district judge in Helena who has already been reprimanded for sending politically charged emails back in 2019. His hand was slapped (barely) by the Judicial Standards Committee for using public resources to send politically partisan emails, but as is typical, he was only ordered to apologize for “an improper use of public resources” and “damaging the perception of his impartiality.”
Coming out strongly against accountability, using public resources to send politically charged emails, Menihan is found in Batch #3 to oppose the accountability bill. Notice that Menihan acknowledges the impropriety of judges lobbying against partisan bills, right before telling the court to keep doing it. He literally was “punished” for doing this just two years ago.
Notice that McLaughlin said that they need to “start working” HB685, and encouraged injecting themselves into the legislative process through Rep. Barry Usher.
Montana Daily Gazette is under the impression that Usher maintains personal and professional integrity and solidly fits into the “conservative camp.” However, it is troubling that after Usher postponed a bill being heard in committee due to an amendment that the bar associaton’s attorney-lobbyist Bruce Spencer said “We owe Usher a solid on this.”
The term, “owe a solid,” means that you will pay someone back or do them a favor.
Clearly the expression is inappropriate when used between the judiciary and legislators. Please note that this impugns the court, speaking in terms of favors and kickbacks, rather than Usher (we do not have correspondence from Usher indicating he was complicit in this scheme, and we reached out to Usher, who was not permitted to speak to the press. However, upon review of the facts, it appears that Usher merely pushed back a hearing to become more informed on the amendment and wasn’t colluding with the court).
Meanwhile, at the same time the court and its allies were arguing that legislators should be paid $10 per day for per diem, they were also suggesting that judges should be paid overtime “combat pay” for having to appear before the legislature. This nugget is provided by Yellowstone County District Judge, Gregory Todd.
Below, you’ll see Attorney Bruce Spencer again admitting to caucusing with Democrats in what is clearly inappropriate collusion with the Legislative Branch.
Email Batch #4 is largely redundant.
TIP: When you review these emails, start at the bottom of the PDF and work your way up.
SUMMARY: NO ACCOUNTABILITY AT ALL COSTS
The emails from the Supreme Court demonstrate a palpable antipathy toward Montanans and their elected representatives. The very notion of checks-and-balances offends the Montana Supreme Court, and their air of bourgeois contempt for the people’s leaders is evident. They speak of “citizens” holding judges accountable as though it were the end of Democracy, as though Democracy was entrusted exclusively to six judges in a state of a million people.
Some of the bills opposed by the Supreme Court seek to shine a light on their partisanship. While the court wants to remain officially non-partisan (the only way men and women of their leftward bent can be routinely elected in Montana), their email correspondence demonstrates that they are very, very partisan indeed. Gameplanning overtly to “caucus” with the Democrats to oppose legislation that would hold the judiciary accountable demonstrates their partisanship and collusion to circumvent accountability.
Meanwhile, it is evident that the justices were by and large biased against the very bills they were to rule on without partiality but refused to recuse themselves unless forced by the Attorney General. And furthermore, the email dump reveals that it seems altogether common and ordinary for the court to oppose or support legislation on partisan grounds.
THE MONTANA CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT
The Montana Code of Judicial Conduct, which was repeatedly mentioned throughout the email exchanges (which the judges and their acoyltes said was sufficient to guide them without citizen accountability) forbids the very type of conduct they are engaging in.
The rules governing judicial impartiality are in Canon 2 of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct (see below).
Take a look at Rule 2.2…
The rule states, “to ensure impartiality and fairness to all parties, a judge must be objective and open minded.” Furthermore, it reads, “a judge must interpret and apply the law without regard to whether the judge approves or disapproves of the law in question.”
And notice Rule 2.3…
The type of bias indicated in the rules for judicial behavior forbids that which was demonstrated in their emails. They are not performing their duties without bias or prejudice. They are indeed “imparing the fairness of the proceeding and bringing the judiciary into disrepute.”
Note Rule 2.11…
By using their public, government emails, the court is indeed making public statements. They are doing so in violation of Rule 2.11 with the intention of impairing the fairness of a matter “pending or impending” in the court. They are also to “require court staff, court officials, and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to refrain from making statements that the judge would be prohibited from making.” This includes especially their Administrator, who in this case is Beth McLaughlin.
Is it not reasonable to view the entire Montana Supreme Court, by virtue of their employment and direction of Beth McLaughlin, as violating Rule 2.12? Certainly, no reasonable person could claim that the court’s impartiality can’t be reasonably questioned.