Everyone’s lawyered up and it’s quite a cast of characters.
The Montana Democratic Party is suing the Montana Secretary of State’s office, challenging the validity of signatures gathered by the Green Party in its effort to gain ballot status. MDP brought in attorney Kevin J. Hamilton, a heavy hitter from the Seattle law firm Perkins Coie. Hamilton has represented such notables as former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, to name a few. Here’s his vitae.
In a weirder twist, the Green Party is represented by Quentin Rhoades, often a mouthpiece for Republican candidates and issues. Rhoades defended former Montana Rep. Art Wittich on campaign law violations (Wittich lost). He represented consultants for the Koch brothers’ American Tradition Partnership in another campaign violations case (ATP lost). He sided with Mountain Water when Missoula was in the condemnation process with the utility (Mountain Water lost). Rhoades also represented Montana Shooting Sports Association’s Gary Marbut in a gun manufacturing dispute (Marbut lost).
Stranger still, the secretary of state’s office, headed by Corey Stapleton, hired Billings attorney Emily Jones. Jones was recently sanctioned for blocking evidence in a complaint filed with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices in 2016. In that case, Jones’ husband, Republican political operative Jake Eaton, was involved in a political practices lawsuit in which thousands of dollars in campaign contributions went unreported. Coincidentally, the same judge who sanctioned Jones is the judge in this signature gathering case.
There are other hinky aspects to the Green Party’s ballot status, such as signature gatherers being paid out-of-staters, which could be a violation of campaign reporting law. A complaint is pending before the commissioner of political practices. There are also questions on the legitimacy of some of the Green candidates — one having been on the GOP payroll and another having made anti-immigrant slurs.
The Democrats held forth last Tuesday. The trial continues this Monday with lawyers for the S.O.S. and Greens advancing their cause.
Judge Kathy Seeley said there probably wouldn’t be a decision before the primary election June 5 but since there’s only one contested race on the Green Party ticket — for the U.S. Senate — a ruling before then wouldn’t have much impact on the election. I’m very curious to see how many voters are going to opt for the Green Party ballot in the primary over ballots for the Democrats and Republicans. My guess is very few.
A ruling for or against the Green Party before the general election is a different story, and could have implications up and down the ballot. With the players involved, testimony on Monday will be entertaining.