Photo compliments from Montana State Council On Judicial Accountability
Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government but illegal for the citizenry ~ Thomas Jefferson
By Tim Ravndal
During the late1990’s, Montana Multiple Use Association brought before the courts, a case protecting private property rights. In that case after a long 5 year battle, the people of Montana lost. Due to a lot of legal maneuvering, the courts ruled against private property owners rights because the local government changed the rules to maintain control over the case.
Since that time, several attempts were made with the Montana Legislature to change some laws that would protect the rights of the people from administrative government overreach. The “Whistleblower” concept was introduced to protect those exposing corruption, but the power rested in the institution of judicial standards, effectively squashing those efforts, session after session.
Many citizens across Montana are coming forward with less than admirable stories of judicial accountability. The President of Montana State Council On Judicial Accountability ( MtSCOJA) Bart Crabtree, brings his continued call for help in the quest for judicial accountability here in Montana.
Mr. Crabtree was inspired to take a direct engagement in the quest for judicial accountability due to a case where he himself fell prey to a part of the judicial system that ignored the truth. In certain cases, there are times of desperation that the judicial system will manufacture a case or even change the rules to maintain control. As noted above with Montana Multiple Use Association, the rules were changed rendering the case moot.
Having been involved in the personal case against him, Mr. Crabtree brought together multiple citizens from across Montana in an effort to amplify the voice of the people. MtSCOJA reached out to elected officials in the 67th Legislature. Mr. Crabtree brought forward for consideration, legislation to amend existing law or to create a new law on behalf of the people. Mr. Crabtree quickly recognized the sound of doors slamming shut across Montana.
The 67th Montana Legislature was feeling the pressure from the citizens across Montana. Legislators took the call for accountability to the next level where a request was made to overhaul the Montana judicial process. The challenge to the standard process in place was founded in SB140. This legislation was signed into law, providing for the Governor of Montana to directly appoint judges. This legislation took away the unilateral power of the judicial branch to appoint its own.
“Transparency Is known As The Disinfectant Of Tyranny”
The Montana Legislature recognized a call from the people and brought forward several more bills to address problems in accountability. HB685 carried by Representative Brad Tschida looked specifically at transparency and accountability within the judicial branch of Montana.
Article VII Section 11 of the Constitution of Montana deals directly with the removal and discipline of judges for violations of the judicial standards. HB685 would have opened up this section of the Constitution to amend the makeup of what is known as the “Judicial Standards Commission.” The change was to be brought before the people of Montana for a vote, but the legislative powers killed the bill.
As a backup, HB380 carried by Representative Kerri Seekins-Crowe, also revises the process of judicial nominations to the judicial standards commission. This effort was signed into law by Governor Greg Gianforte. HB380 requires that all judges that are appointed by the Montana Supreme Court are required to be confirmed by the Montana Senate.
Since the law was passed, judges have been appointed; but because the appointments were official after the Legislature adjourned, there are judges are now serving without the required confirmation by the Montana Senate. We were asked if the Senate Judiciary Committee could make that confirmation, but the answer is still pending. It is not sure if the confirmation is like normal nominations requiring confirmation by the full senate.
We spoke to Cheryl Campbell who recently filed a complaint with the Judicial Standards Commission. The commission, after a substantial delay, did acknowledge the complaint as filed. Under the rules of the commission, Mrs Campbell was unable to seek help due to the standards commission rules of secrecy. The commission’s failure to respond to multiple calls on the status of her complaint continued.
Considering Cheryl’s complaint was lodged against one of the judges that serves on the Judicial Standards Commission the questions of accountability appeared to be even further out of reach. Eventually the commission ruled against Mrs. Campbell’s complaint claiming her complaint had no merit.
Mr. Crabtree provided a synopsis of the performance of the Judicial Standards Commission. He noted that over 90% of all complaints filed with the Judicial Standards Commission are summarily dismissed.
The Montana Legislature special committee proceeded to seek a clear connection to the truth. The orchestrated political push from the Montana Supreme Court to defeat SB140 raised questions of separations of power. The Montana Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Mike McGrath came to the legislature in full force with all 7 justices testifying against the legislation.
Fight For Public Information Continues
Because the political football was being tossed back and forth, the special legislative select committee subpoenaed communications between the supreme court justices. That brought forward the sound of doors slamming once again.
The chair of the special legislative committee Greg Hertz, after consultation with the committee members decided to pull the subpoena. We asked why that was done, and Mr.Hertz opined that other options were being considered.
The legislative committee made a motion to end the quest for information. The Montana Supreme Court exercised its purported authority and kicked the political football back and denied the motion. This move provided the court ultimate control over the public information that was being guarded by the court.
Cheryl Campbell, again exercising her rights as a citizen of Montana, filed for information from the Montana Supreme Court regarding the poll that was administered by the court. No public documentation is available as to who received the poll questions, the number of respondents, or the content of the results of the poll. Mrs. Campbell advised us that she was notified by the court that the information was sealed due to ongoing litigation.
Many others we talked to asked: “How can the Montana Supreme Court even make a ruling on a case against them?” A normal cause for a “Conflict of Interest” would be immediately called, resulting in a change of venue. Unfortunately for now anyway, it appears the power behind the robe is still in full control.
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