No matter who wins the race to become the next Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, they will have incredibly big shoes to fill.
Chief Justice Karla Gray is retiring. Gray has been a fixture on the court since 1991, and Chief Justice since 2000. I believe she has served on the court longer than the other justices. By all accounts, Gray has done an excellent job in leading the court, which is comprised of the Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. Her leadership will be sorely missed.
The members of the Montana Supreme Court serve eight year terms. As it should be, we hardly hear much about any of the justices’ personal views until around election time.
In the beginning of the 2008 election season when current Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath announced his decision to run for Chief Justice, it seemed to be a done deal. He would cruise into the office without having to do much work.
But since that time, McGrath has come under scrutiny for not investigating his fellow Democrat, Governor Brian Schweitzer, after Schweitzer bragged about tampering with the 2006 elections. McGrath was formally asked by Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson to look into the situation. If McGrath would have taken a week or so and made some calls and talked to some people, then issued a report, he would have (in my mind) done his job. But, he quickly (within a couple of hours) fired off a letter to Johnson refusing to investigate the issue. To many folks, that showed that McGrath’s attention was more on political friends than finding the facts.
If that was not enough, a Political Action Committee (PAC) called “Montanans For Fairness Not Politics” has brought to light some other issues. On their website, they write, “Mike McGrath has been the Attorney General of the State of Montana for the past 8 years. During his term in office, he has shown a propensity for doing what is politically expedient, even when it violates the civil rights of individual Montanans.”
They list, in detail, the issues they have with McGrath’s lack of work as Montana Attorney General: The State vs. Jimmy Ray Bromgard, The State vs. Barry Allan Beach, and issues surrounding the State Crime Lab.
I am also concerned about McGrath’s lack of enforcement of the law dealing with automated pre-recorded phone calls for candidates. Several of his fellow Democrats have been caught making these calls and he did nothing to prosecute the crime.
These are just some of the reasons that I will not be voting for Mike McGrath.
I believe McGrath’s opponent, Ron Waterman, will make an exceptional Chief Justice. He pledges to keep partisan politics out of the Supreme Court, and promises to serve only one term. I like his idea of making the court more open and accessible to the public.
One of the major issues Waterman has brought up is he contends that McGrath, if elected to the Court, would have to disqualify himself from about 50% of the cases because McGrath performed duties as the state’s chief legal officer as Attorney General. This problem could hamper the court’s ability to make decisions on the cases because only six justices would be hearing them. One could envision many cases ending up with a 3-3 split decision.
This race should be interesting to watch on election night. You can read more about Ron Waterman’s views by visiting his website HERE.