Cracking Down on “Pay-to-Play” in Montana Courtrooms
A controversy involving the state Supreme Court race in the 2022 Montana elections is renewing calls for campaign finance reform involving judges receiving campaign contributions from the lawyers appearing before their court.
State Senator Brad Molnar (R-Laurel), who is known for a fierce independent streak in the state legislature, says he is drafting legislation for the upcoming session that would prevent lawyers and their law firms from pouring money into the campaigns of judges and justices who would be deciding their case. If the lawyers donate to a campaign, the judge would have to recuse themselves from a case.
In a prepared statement sent to multiple Montana media outlets, Sen. Molnar says his bill would expand upon HB 255 which was sponsored by Rep. Matthew Monforton in the 2015 legislative session.
State Sen. Molnar: Unfortunately, the most raucous match up this campaign season is for a Montana Supreme Court seat. The job should be about the plain wording of the law as applied to plain worded constitutional limitations on, and obligations of, government especially as regards the rights of the people. If the job were there that ho-hum there would not be over a million dollars poured into this race by left and right of center organizations. So today I have drafted a bill that separates the Judge from donor influence.
According to an outline of the draft legislation sent to us by Sen. Molnar, the bill "says that if a party, a party’s attorney, or the attorney’s law firm put money, directly or indirectly, into a judge’s campaign they must declare and the judge must recuse. It also clarifies that the Judicial Standards Commission cannot subvert open government requirements enshrined in the Montana Constitution with in-house rules."
What do you think? Should judges be able to take campaign cash from the lawyers and law firms appearing before their court? Should the judges and justices have to recuse themselves?
Montana Supreme Court candidate James Brown told me LIVE on the radio last week that he has already supported legislation that would do just that. His opponent Ingrid Gustafson is facing multiple ethics complaints alleging that she illegally filmed a campaign commercial in a public building in Gallatin County, and two judicial standards complaints that she took money from lawyers appearing before her court.
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