Contacts: Raph Graybill, Graybill Law Firm, (406) 403-2811

** Forward Montana sues to challenge recent unconstitutional lawmaking **

[HELENA, MONTANA] Forward Montana, Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Lewis & Clark County Attorney Leo Gallagher, and a group of prominent members of the bar who represent both plaintiffs and defendants, have filed a lawsuit challenging a recently passed law that silences the voices of college students and would remove Montana judges from hundreds of pending cases.

Less than 24 hours before the end of the legislative session, legislators commandeered SB319 and added two completely new provisions to the bill. The changes are both sweeping and unconstitutional. The first provision requires judges to recuse themselves anytime they receive $91 or more in independent spending from a political committee that a party or attorney before them has supported financially in any amount.  If the provision takes effect on July 1, it will cause chaos in the judiciary by forcing the removal of judges from hundreds of pending cases in Montana.  The second provision bans voter registration and other First Amendment activities around certain public university facilities, such as a Montana Grizzly football game. The provisions were added onto SB319 in a hearing that lasted just sixteen minutes and without public comment.

The complaint alleges that these changes violate Article V, Section 11 of the Montana Constitution, which requires that bills contain only a single subject and prevents the legislature from amending laws so much during the process that they lose their original purpose.  Though the practice is unconstitutional, it became more common during the most recent legislative session.

About bringing this challenge, Kiersten Iwai, Executive Director of Forward Montana issued the following statement:

“Our democracy works best when everyone is involved, not just a few lawmakers behind closed doors. Think I’m exaggerating? The hearing for this bill lasted only sixteen minutes with no opportunity for public input. That’s the definition of closed-door lawmaking.

Montana’s State Constitution is designed to prevent last minute amendments – just like these – by prohibiting a bill from containing multiple unrelated subjects. This type of lawmaking is a tactic used to purposefully confuse constituents and distract from the real issues at hand.

The results of this quick lawmaking should be a concern to all Montanans. It’s an assault against our democracy and must be challenged in court. Legislators need to know that this behavior will not be tolerated.”

Joining the lawsuit is the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The Association cautioned that if SB319’s recusal provisions go into effect, it could affect hundreds of pending criminal cases in Montana and potentially interfere with other constitutional rights like the right to a speedy trial.

Colin Stephens, President of the Montana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, noted that the suit has drawn support from both the prosecution and defense side of the criminal bench:

“Any time I can stand side by side with Leo Gallagher is an interesting but good time.  Bad legislation makes strange bedfellows.”