MT Supreme Court: We Have a Race!

It looks like we have a race for an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court brewing!

State District Court Judge Dirk Sandefur announced in February that he would run for the seat being vacated by Justice Patricia O. Cotter. You can view his website HERE.

Earlier this week, the Great Falls Tribune reported that Kristen Gustafson Juras of Great Falls had filed for election to the Montana Supreme Court. I first read the news Monday via Twitter from Troy Carter who writes for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle (BDC). You can read the BDC story HERE. The campaign website for Juras will go live June 1. You can view her website HERE.

In the story, Carter reported on Juras’ political donations:

According to public records, Juras has donated to the Montana Republican Party, Republican Attorney General Tim Fox, Democratic State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, and Lawrence VanDyke, the conservative attorney who ran unsuccessfully against Justice Mike Wheat in the 2014 Supreme Court election.

It did not take long for the Montana Cowgirl Blog to go after Juras with a column titled, “Pro-Censorship Prof Under Fire for Paid Corporate Study to Run for Supreme Court.” You can read it HERE.

The Cowgirl brought up two issues regarding Juras.

First, the Cowgirl claims back in 2009 “Juras called for censorship of the University of Montana’s student paper, the Montana Kaimen, because a student had written about sex.”

Writing about sex in a college newspaper – Oh My…

Secondly, the Cowgirl writes:

In 2012, Juras came under fire after the Billings Gazette reported that Juras had “apparently violated some aspects of university policy” by publishing a biased study in favor of Charter – the company that tried to pass a ballot initiative to force Montanans to pay their taxes.

Turning to State District Court Judge Dirk Sandefur, here at The Western Word I’ve written about Sandefur several times.

I was especially disappointed with his sentence in the Jason Rosander case. Rosander was drunk and killed three people while operating a motor vehicle back in 2011. Rosander claimed he had a “coughing fit,” and that is what caused the accident. It was reported that he failed a field breathalyzer test and had a blood-alcohol level of .107.

Then, due to a plea deal made by Cascade County Attorney John Parker, District Court Judge Dirk Sandefur sentenced Rosander to 15 years with 10 years suspended. Rosander also had to pay $227,977 in restitution. You can read the full column about the case HERE.

Normally when I give my opinions through my columns on this website, I might get a few emails saying things like “$%^$ you and the horse you rode in on” or “you’ll never work in Republican politics again.” I just put the comments in my archive and snicker.

A few weeks ago I received an email from none other than Judge Dirk Sandefur asking me if I would like to meet with him to discuss the State v. Rosander case and my “criticisms.”

At first I thought it was a prank, and I was not entirely sold on the request being real until I was actually sitting in his office.

We met one on one for about 90 minutes in his office. It was all very professional. We talked at length about the Rosander case. We discussed drunk driving, judges as politicians, the perception the public has about judges in Great Falls and across the state.

Judge Sandefur and I agree on more issues than we disagree about. I do have a better understanding of the process and his judicial limitations. The judge also has a better understanding of how I formed my opinions about drunk driving.

This race for the Montana Supreme Court will be interesting, to say the least. Right now Sandefur should be favored to win. Others may throw their hats in. The last two contested Supreme Court races have been pretty nasty – mostly due to third-party groups – so we have that to look forward to.

Finally, in my opinion it’s really too bad that to become a judge in Montana, one must be a politician. It taints the office and those who hope to ascend to it.


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