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Ellsworth doesn't respect separation of powers

by Erin Farris-Olsen
| April 21, 2024 12:00 AM

Primary candidate for clerk of the Montana Supreme Court, Jason Ellsworth, doesn’t understand or respect separation of powers — a core tenant of our American democracy that protects us all. 

Demonstrated by his newly created Judicial Oversight Committee and now the subpoena he recently issued to the Montana secretary of state, Ellsworth continues to show, in addition to his personal criminal and civil records, that he doesn’t think the law applies to him. 

Worse yet, his actions undermine governmental accountability, judicial integrity and the constitutional rights of all Montanans. Ellsworth’s blatant disregard for the independence of the judiciary undermines the checks and balances system that prevents any one branch from becoming too powerful.

When I started running for the clerk of the Montana Supreme Court, the question I received most was simple: What does the clerk of the Montana Supreme Court do? The clerk of the Montana Supreme Court manages files before the court and organizes a few attorney proceedings such as the swearing in of new lawyers and attorney discipline. That’s it. That’s all.  

The clerk is there to protect the people, attorneys and the court by operating as an independent office that preserves the judicial process and facilitates the court’s adjudication. 

Ellsworth has demonstrated his intent to overreach any position to undermine the court and therefore threaten Montanans rights. And that could affect any individual right before the Supreme Court — privacy, labor and families.  

As a former law clerk and staff of the Montana Supreme Court, I know there is very little legal authority afforded to the office of clerk of Supreme Court. Yet, someone who knows the court system like I do, can get a lot done to protect Montanans rights to access the court and increase judicial efficiency by working with other partnering departments, local courts and legal associations. 

This position is too important to trust to Ellsworth. It requires a person who can be trusted and relied upon to follow the law and to do the job correctly — not use the position to undermine the rule of law. 

Erin Farris-Olsen is a Montana attorney based in Helena. She is running for clerk of the Montana Supreme Court.