Complaint against Knudsen a partisan attack
| September 24, 2023 12:00 AM
It is shameful that the Office of Disciplinary Council, which is appointed by the liberal-dominated Montana Supreme Court, is pursuing a meritless, ethical complaint against Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen for simply doing his job representing the Legislature in a legitimate constitutional dispute between the Legislature and the court.
The complaint stems from the 2021 constitutional dispute between the Legislature and the Montana Supreme Court. While much has been written about the months-long dispute, it can be summarized quite easily. Emails obtained from a whistleblower clearly demonstrated inappropriate conduct by members of the judiciary. After the court admitted it had deleted relevant public records, the Legislature set about to investigate the matter further by issuing a set of subpoenas. The judiciary took issue with their emails being subpoenaed and a legal melee ensued. The court’s own employee filed a lawsuit to protect the justices’ emails, the Supreme Court convened on a Sunday with no public notice in an attempt to quash the subpoenas of their own emails, and the court’s self-serving order in the case was eventually appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
We’re confident that an examination of the facts will show this complaint for the political-motivated stunt that it is.
The Office of Disciplinary Council — Pam Bucy was appointed chief disciplinary council by Chief Justice McGrath. She was the 2012 Democrat nominee for attorney general. Bucy had previously worked for McGrath when he was the Democrat attorney general. Bucy told Lee Newspapers that she appointed a special counsel because she “didn’t want this to be political in any way.” Her claim is hardly believable, given that she appointed a liberal Democrat trial lawyer rather than an independent Investigator.
The Special Counsel — Tim Strauch is the liberal Missoula trial lawyer appointed to prosecute the complaint against Knudsen. He has been an active Democrat political donor for over 20 years. Strauch has contributed thousands of dollars to dozens of Democrats and liberal judicial candidates, including contributions to five current members of the Supreme Court.
Strauch’s past support of members of the court should immediately disqualify him from this matter, given that the questionable actions of the court are at the root of this complaint.
The Commission on Practice — The Commission on Practice, which is appointed by the Supreme Court, will now hold a contested-case hearing (similar to courtroom trial) to determine the legitimacy of this complaint and potentially recommend the punishment Knudsen will face, including the potential to strip him of the ability to serve as Attorney General. This is highly problematic and raises serious constitutional issues, not only because the commission itself is rife with conflicts that should preclude them from participating, but more concerning because as an appointed body, it lacks the power to strip an elected official of his office, and in effect, disenfranchise the 348,322 Montana voters that put Mr. Knudsen in office.
One member of the commission filed a discrimination complaint against Knudsen’s Department of Justice after they didn’t hire him. Andres Haladay had applied for a bureau chief position at Department of Justice’s agency legal services. Department of Justice hired a more experienced attorney and offered Haladay a job as deputy bureau chief – he declined and instead filed a complaint claiming he was discriminated against because of his own “liberal or progressive” political beliefs.
Haladay and other members of the commission have made over 200 political contributions totaling more than $50,000 to Democrat and liberal judicial candidates. Several members even donated to Knudsen’s 2020 Democrat opponent Raph Graybill. No reasonable person would look at this commission and think that they are situated to be a fair and impartial tribunal.
The Complaint — The complaint against Knudsen originated in California, not Montana. The 2021 complaint was filed by retired California lawyer Clara Roberts. Roberts has made political contributions to 15 Montana Democrats and liberal Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson. In addition, Ms. Roberts has financially supported Democrat candidates across the country.
From the beginning this complaint was nothing more than a partisan political effort. The allegations against Knudsen stem from his representation in the dispute between the court and the Legislature. To be clear; Knudsen was doing his job representing the legislature in this dispute.
Now a liberal California lawyer and a Missoula trial lawyer want to see him punished for having the temerity to question the actions of those in power and stand up for the Constitutional rights of the Legislature.
This abuse of the legal disciplinary process should be seen for exactly what it is: a partisan political stunt aimed at improving the electoral chances of the Democrats in 2024. And it should be rejected immediately by the Commission on Practice.
Wylie Galt is Former Speaker of the House. Sen. Greg Hertz, R-Polson, is chair of the Special Select Committee on Judicial Accountability and Transparency.