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Montana Politics Senate Race 2018

Russ Fagg Failed to Do His Job as a District Court Judge; Now He Wants to be a Senator.

When Donald Harris took over for Russ Fagg as a District Court judge in Billings, he inherited a mess: a backlog of 1,100 open cases that Fagg left unresolved when he decided to open a Senate campaign speaking to crowds of at least six. From KTVQ:

Fagg had about 1,100 open cases that will be inherited, largely, by Harris, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock.

While some of that backlog is certainly the result of Montana Republicans refusing to adequately fund the justice system in our state, one has to wonder whether Judge Fagg might not have spent his time better in the past year doing the work of his courtroom rather than running a shadow campaign for the US Senate. Rather than using his judicial robes as a prop for campaign photos, perhaps Judge Fagg should have used them more frequently to hear cases and clear some of the backload.

Those 1,100 cases represent not only a failure to do his job but a lie to the people of Montana. When Fagg released a statement in June 2017 announcing his decision to step down, he said he would clear the cases. From KULR-8:

Fagg concludes his statement saying: “I want to finish this job well, and thus the four month lead time. I will handle the 1,100 cases in front of me (emphasis mine) and leave this office in good shape for the new judge.”

Not so much, I guess.

For the over $130,000 he collected annually as a judge, it doesn’t seem like too much to ask that Fagg actually spent enough time to reduce the backlog of cases in his courtroom rather than promoting himself. 

Perhaps those “crowds” of almost a dozen can ask Mr. Fagg to explain why we’d elect him to the Senate when he couldn’t be trusted to do the job he held for the past 22 years.

And rather than abandoning his job as a judge to run for office, shouldn’t someone who talks about the lessons he’s learned as a hard-working fourth generation Montanan have finished the term he was elected for?  Fagg’s decision to step down from the bench to campaign after dishonestly suggesting he intended to open a law firm not only meant cases went unheard, but that voters in Yellowstone County won’t have the opportunity to select their next judge without undue bias.

It’s always a mystery why candidates who have failed to do a previous job feel they can take a promotion to a higher position in government. Perhaps those “crowds” of almost a dozen can ask Mr. Fagg to explain why we’d elect him to the Senate when he couldn’t be trusted ensure the speedy operation of his courtroom–or do the job he held for the past 22 years.


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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • As part of his “exploratory” non-campaigning, Fagg did his best to present himself as “the judge.” What he revealed has been that he is a judicial lightweight with minimal understanding of actual case law. He also blatantly demonstrated that he is entirely willing to legislate from the bench; putting forward his own narrow, partisan political positions to supercede legislative authority.

    He would certainly mesh well with Daines as a spineless rubber stamp for party leadership; but he would also certainly follow Daines’ example of total disregard for actual representation of the people he wants to vote for him.

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