Justices of the Montana Supreme Court appeared before the 3PM Select Committee of the Montana Legislature, comprised of Republicans and Democrats from both the Montana House and Senate. Neither justices nor their administrator, Beth McLaughlin, appeared before the 9AM meeting of the committee.
As the meeting began, justices were each asked by Rep. Greg Hertz (R-HD12) if they would comply with the legislative committee. The justices each refused to comply with their subpoena for information regarding emails they sent using public servers, some of which have already been released by the press and made known to Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, that reveal their bias toward SB140 and their antipathy toward the legislative branch of government.
The justices claimed their appearance would grant the legislators “comments” in regard to the controversy, but would not provide the emails in question, despite the state law being clear that such emails are a matter of public record. They did express their willingness to answer “some questions,” but balked at placing themselves at open inquiry of the committee.
Justice Beth Baker, for example, told the legislators, “there is no reason my impartiality should be questioned.” Of course, the emails released from the justices and the court’s office, along with their refusal to hand over public information, is reason enough to doubt the justices’ impartiality. The Chief Justice, Mark McGrath, recused himself for bias, and appointed a replacement to serve on his behalf. That replacement, Kurt Krueger, also had to step down after emails revealed that he, too, was biased.
Of particular concern to the committee was the behavior of Beth McLaughlin. Justices were not forthcoming in regards to who has oversight over McLaughlin, with one justice claiming that Chief Justice Mark McGrath , “works with McLaughlin daily.” Upon clarification, the justice acknowledged that all the justices work with McLaughlin. A firm answer as to who McLaughlin is accountable to was not given. McLaughlin, the Supreme Court Administrator, is at the center of the email scandal and has refused to appear before the Select Committee.
Justice Ingrid Gustafson, who also refused to provide information requested by the legislature, told the committee, “I take my judicial oath and responsibilities very seriously,” before recalling her resume’ and job experience. She claimed, “It would be inappropriate and a violation of my oath of office to comment on matters currently before the court.”
The “matters currently before the court” includes their self-absolution from answering questions before the legislature.
Greg Hertz asked Justice Gustafson if it would be appropriate for the court to use public resources and public resources to assist a non-profit lobbying organization. She refused to answer, saying that answering his question “would be inappropriate.”
Hertz also asked if it was appropriate to rule on matters related to her fellow justices. She gave a non-answer, but denied any conflict of interest in the Supreme Court squashing the subpoena sent to the Supreme Court.
The meeting is ongoing, but it appears thus far that the Supreme Court Justices are stonewalling the legislative subpoena, creating a Constitutional Crisis caused by an activist judiciary. Montanans should brace for the fall-out.
Justice Laurie McKinnon followed in the path of her fellow justices, stating, “I understand your concern about having a fair and impartial tribunal…I feel strongly too about having co-equal branches of government.” She went on to say, “I respect the legislature and its authority.”
Justice McKinnon then went on to deny that the legislature had the right to obtain legally accessible public documents that might shed light on her impartiality, or lack thereof. She then rambled with barely coherent sentences of gibberish and gobbledegook, before saying matter-of-factly that she’s done nothing to make us question her impartiality.
Of course, refusing to hand over her public emails betrayed her forked tongue as words came flying out both sides of her mouth. McKinnon said, “If I cannot be fair and impartial…I must and do recuse myself.”
Without releasing those emails, there’s no way of telling if she being honest.
DEVELOPING: Updates will be provided when they are available.