By Tim Ravndal
Because there was a trail of obstruction to the legislature regarding accountability within the Montana Judicial Branch, the Legislative leadership under rules of the Montana legislature convened a special committee to look into the truth.
On the last day of the 67th Montana Legislature a specially convened committee met to present their Initial Report ON JUDICIAL TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY.
The committee is working forward beyond the 68th Montana Legislature to provide the mechanism needed to protect the citizens right to know what is going on. This committee was put together based on actions by the Supreme Court of Montana in relation to SB140 that deals with the appointment of judges. HB685 brought a substantial push back from the members of the Judicial branch bringing forward more questions on accountability.
Improper actions by the Supreme Court Justices and a non-profit lobbying group Montana Judges Association was called into question. In our search for transparent information on the Montana Judges Association there is a curtain of uncertainty that concerns many citizens that saw the results here.
The minority members of the legislature largely remained silent on pursuing further information on behalf of the citizens. The Chairman of the committee requested a minority report from Senator Sands to be presented before the next meeting. (Stay Tuned)
“This report is a summary of the work of the Special Joint Select Committee on Judicial Accountability and Transparency. Members received additional information and testimony during their investigation, and this report is an effort to highlight key information and the processes followed by the Select Committee in reaching its conclusions.” (The 20 page Report made public April 27th 2021)
On April 29th 2021 the committee held a public hearing on the matter. The members of their committee provided an opening statement regarding task at hand and members of the public were provided an opportunity to weigh in on the matter.
All members of the committee with the exception of Representative Kim Abbott and Senator Dianne Sands were very receptive to producing the report and hearing from the people of Montana. Each time Representative Abbott spoke, no one we spoke to afterwards were able to understand what she was saying due to her decision to wear a mask.
Senator Sands showed her extreme dissatisfaction towards the process and made several attempts during the hearing to discredit the process claiming it was nothing more than a political ploy. In addition, Senator Sands pulled a section from the Montana Constitution that pertains to the judicial branch in her attempt to paint an unconstitutional act with the creation and use of resources by the committee.
Senator Greg Hertz who was chairman of the committee instantly rebutted the claim made by Senator Sands providing a clear legal standing for the committee and the results of the draft report.
Bart Crabtree that has an extensive history in the quest for judicial transparency provided the committee a prepared statement on behalf of Montana State Council On Judicial Accountability. Mr. Crabtree gave high regards to the committee for moving forward on the investigation and filing of the report.
Representative Derek Skees provided a clear response to the quest for transparency and accountability on behalf of the citizens of Montana. He clearly called praise on the committee members working to get to the truth. He also openly reminded the minority party members on the committee that he truly believed the work yet to be done is in order.
The brief summary of the draft report was reviewed with Senator Hertz providing an outline for the next steps in this quest for truth within the judicial branch of Montana government. Because the legislature was adjourned on April 29th 2021, the committee will take a final review of the report on Wednesday May 5th 2021 @ 9:00AM, to move the committee recommendations forward.
The initial report includes 9 actions that are recommended to be concluded before the 68th Montana Legislature in 2023. The initial recommendations in the initial draft report presented are not final and may be amended in the coming days prior to final adoption of the report.
- That this Committee continue into the interim, with proper funding, in order for the Committee to complete its investigation.
- That the Committee complete its work on the same schedule as that of regular interim committees and produce a final report to the 68th Legislature.
- That the Committee examine whether legislation is necessary to address Committee findings.
- That the Committee determine whether evidence indicates that the conduct of state employees or officials should be referred to the appropriate authorities for further investigation.
- That the Committee submit complaints to disciplinary bodies of the judicial or legal profession if facts and evidence indicate such complaints are warranted.
- That the Committee, through Counsel, work with the Justices to resolve their non-compliance with document production on the original subpoenas.
- That the Committee issue further subpoenas deemed necessary to complete its investigation.
- That the Committee consider whether the current lobbying practices of the Montana Judges Association negatively impact public confidence in the branch or compromise the integrity of the judicial branch by creating the appearance of bias for or against legislation that may later be challenged in the courts.
- That the Committee consider whether the Montana Judges Association should remain the primary education and ethics provider to the Montana judiciary, or whether a third-party would be better suited to provide such services to the branch.
Individuals wishing to testify by Zoom at the May 5th meeting may email Lindsey Krywaruchka at LKrywaruchka@mt.gov. Please provide her your name, your organization affiliation (if you have one) and whether you are testifying in support, opposition, or as an informational witness.
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