Ethics Violations Apparent in Supreme Court Race

A right-wing candidate for Supreme Court appears to be blatantly disregarding the Judicial Code of Conduct by having a sitting judge solicit donations on her behalf.

Judge Nels Swandal sent out a mailing on his judicial letterhead soliciting campaign contributions for Laurie McKinnon, a hard right district judge running for Montana Supreme Court.  This looks like a clear violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct, which states that sitting judges are prohibited from soliciting funds for a judicial candidate or collecting money on their behalf.

Here’s what Swandal writes (click to enlarge, or view the whole letter here):

The entire Swandal letter (Page 1 and 2) and the exact language of the Judicial Code of Conduct (Page 3) can be viewed here.

Swandal is no stranger to shady dealings with right-wingers.  He’s the guy who had to recuse himself from the Rehberg/Barkus DUI boating trial in which one of Rehberg’s staff suffered a severe head injury after neither Congressman Rehberg nor former state Senator Greg Barkus bothered to designate a sober driver.  Swandal had to recuse himself because he had a record of supporting Barkus and other Republicans. He even hired Rehberg’s former chief of staff after the brain injury to run his campaign against Beth Baker for Supreme Court.  Swandal lost but remains a district judge in Livingston.

The other candidates in the non-partisan race include veteran Beth Best, of Great Falls and Ed Sheehy, of Missoula, though Sheehy does not appear to be raising money.

Posted: April 9, 2012 at 7:18 am

This post was written by Cowgirl

78 thoughts on “Ethics Violations Apparent in Supreme Court Race

  1. Havre Voter

    Swandal was the judge who called the AFL-CIO “un-American.”

    Swandal, speaking at a forum at the Republican Party Platform Convention in Billings, said some of the questions posed by the Montana AFL-CIO to candidates “are among the most un-American ideas I’ve ever seen,” and that he wouldn’t seek endorsement of the Montana Conservation Voters “because of their assault on private property.”

    http://billingsgazette.com/news/state-and-regional/montana/article_c6d41ad8-7c2d-11df-824c-001cc4c002e0.html

    1. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Well, now it’s simply full on crazy Bircher shit! In today’s Spitoon, gary marbutt of the sport shooters ass. has a vitriolic letter denouncing Jesse O’Hara as NOT being wacko enuff! Weird, weird stuff. I guess the nazi purity pohleece are gonna be out in force this election. They’re gonna start eatin’ their own! It’s gotta be Big Nazi Country or nuthin’ for these folks!

      But really, the question must now be asked, what has fascism DONE for you lately??? Folks need to answer that for themselves before entering the voting booth!

      1. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

        Prescott Bush would be SO proud of his descendants! For you see, little georgie learned his lessons WELL at the side of his granddaddy and wacko mom. Things WOULD be so much easier if he were a dicktater! And actually, things would have been MUCH easier for the bushes if prescott’s Office Coup would have suceded! No need for all this liberal, progressive shit!….like everything we enjoy!

    2. Craig Moore

      Really, Havre Voter????? Are you reading comprehension challenged or just dishonest here. Swandal called certain ideas “un-American.” What you wrote is pure fabrication.

  2. Damion

    “Sheehy does not appear to be raising money.” So what. Rob Stutz of Missoula is also purposefully not raising money for his Congressional campaign and he is doing an excellent job. I think we need to get the money out of politics and give candidates like Stutz and, more importantly, get IDEAS to be the focus.

    1. Moorcat

      While in some respects I agree with you, Damion, it is unrealistic to think that a zero money campaign will be successful in today’s world. This is even more true of a state like Montana with a widely dispersed population.

  3. Ali

    The right wing judges in Montana view their positions as entitlements. This makes them above the law. Look at Cebull. The put minorities away while letting white business men off the hook. They shill for corporations. And they act for political reasons rather than the law. Seems to me our conservative judges will make perfect candidates for Romney appointees to the Supreme Court.

    1. Craig Moore

      Ali, you should really make an attempt to understand what you are blathering about. ALL federal judges hold their positions for life unless they retire or are removed for cause.

      1. Ali

        Moorcat, I see I have written my comment unclearly. I intended to implicate any right wing judges in Montana who have put minorities away while letting white businessmen off the hook, not Cebull in particular.

        1. Craig Moore

          Ali, if you are going to make claims what might be considered libel, name those judges and their decisions that fit your charges.

          1. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

            Hypocrite, your making that claim with Schweitzer. So why you jumping on Ali?

            1. Moorcat

              Again, I hate to get in the middle of you two, but I must of missed where Craig made such a claim. I would have questioned such a claim.

              1. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

                last story Cowgirl Posted….. he kept posting How our Gov Brian must be impeached. You know differ, deflect, and annoy people with trivial little BS stories from the crazed right!

                1. Moorcat

                  There is a significant difference between calling for a political officer to be impeached and asserting that someone has effectively committed a crime. I am not defending Craig, but this “over the top” BS annoys me to no end.

                    1. Moorcat

                      Neither factually or realistically correct. An ethics violation is not an actual crime. There is plenty of case law to support it. Being convicted of a crime simply determines the outcome before the impeachment. Clinton was impeached because he had committed an actual crime.

                      That said, when you are talking about recall in Montana, I would agree with you. The decisions made about recall at the district court level have effectively gutted recall to the point of uselessness.

                    2. Moorcat

                      It should also be pointed out that impeachment is the process by which an elected official is forced to defend against allegations. Once impeachment has been voted for in the House, the Senate takes over and tries the case.

                    3. Rob Kailey

                      As you note, there is a gigantic difference between impeachment and recall. Craig didn’t support a recall, but rather impeachment. Norma is correct. There was the accusation of a crime.

                    4. Craig Moore

                      Rob, I calling you out for that BS. I stated no opinion about whether Schweitzer should be impeached. The question arose because Larry asked about it. I pointed to Bison as the reason for the call and linked a news article. Norma jumps in and accuses me of mashing up Bison with healthcare to which I pointed out it was Cowgirl that did that. Norma got her panties in a bunch over being revealed for not having read Cowgirl’s post. MY expressed opinion was that bison don’t respect fences as it appears Schweitzer doesn’t respect the impacted farmers and ranchers by following the process of the Senate Bill. Whether or not Scfhweitzer can legitimately claim that he didn’t need to follow the procedure doesn’t relieve the concerns of those farmers and ranchers who feel Schweitzer acted arrogantly and with great disrespect towards them by not putting forth a bison management plan. That has we wondering, what was he thinking to do that? Why not respect their concerns whether or not he has loophole to avoid the process?

                      IMHO, Schweitzer will not be impeached as he only has a few months left. Ranchers and farmers that might have otherwise supported Tester, might be having second thoughts as they have no other avenue to express concern, even if it is displaced aggression.

                      Now if you can demonstrate otherwise that I supported impeachment, put the cards on the table.

          2. Rob Kailey

            Craig, that was good for a laugh, but remarkably silly, nonetheless. In order for something to be “considered” libel it has to be materially untrue and damaging to the reputation or professional standing of a specific individual, or individuals. In other words, you jumped the gun and dreamed up some requirement whereby Ali needs to provide support for your allegations. Like I said, that’s silly.

    2. Moorcat

      Ali, While Cebull’s racism is a matter of record now, there is no evidence yet to support the claim that he is “put[ting] minorities away while letting white business men off the hook.” I am sure that his record is under review right now, but as of this time, that is a over-the-top statement that has no factual basis and could quite likely be seen as slander.

      I am appalled at the Political nature of our judges, make no mistake. Judges should be about the law, not partisan politics. It is up to us – as voters – to ensure that the Judges we elect (and the Politicians that we elect who appoint judges) remember that.

  4. Ali

    By the way, what’s the process for this code of conduct violation- does someone have to file a complaint?

    1. Moorcat

      Which code of conduct alleged violation are you talking about? Cebull’s, Swandal or Schweitzer? I am not sure if you are refering to Swandal.

    2. Ali

      I wondered if citizens could file a complaint against McKinnion, Swandal, or both over this letter. It seems like the public has a right to know about this and, no offense, a blog post isn’t gonna do that – even a very popular blog like this one. I know there is a petition to call in Cebull to resign and that he filed a complaint against himself.

      1. Moorcat

        The petition against Cebull is useless (other than to make those signing it feel better – not to be underestimated), but the complaints (and there were more than one official complaints filed) could result in action. It is unlikely, though, in the case of Cebull.

        As far as McKinnion/Swandal, I am not sure. I simply do not know what the process is for a judge at that level – whether they even can be impeached/recalled. As far as McKinnion, no chance whatsoever. If there is a violation (and I have to admit, it certainly looks like there has been), it would be all on Swandal.

      2. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

        Actually ALI you can file a complaint with the state Attorney General, and It might even be better to do that as a petition of many to the Attorney General. Since they deal with questions of law, and so do Governors. petition either one with about ten thousand signatures… that might start an investigation!

        1. Moorcat

          I am assuming you are talking about McKinnion/Swandal as neither the Attorney General or the Governor can do a damn thing about Cebull. In the case of McKinnion, the agency would be political practices. Since McKinnion is a candidate for office, they would have jurisdiction in a campaign violation. Swandal is a different story altogether.

  5. Montanan4Freedom

    Right wing? According to follow the money, Judge McKinnon has never given any money to Republicans or Democrats. As I have researched her, she was the 2010 CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Judge of the Year for her work with abused children and setup a drug court for non-violent offenders in her district. Doesn’t sound right wing to me.

    Get your facts straight before you start attaching labels.

    1. Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Um, just a question, Freedumb. Just WHAT freedumb is Montana currently lacking? Your nom de plume indicates a non de brain, dude? Only a Teatard uses a handle like that.

  6. FACT CHECKER

    Attention: Anyone who opened a newspaper knows about the large number of unconstitutional bills introduced by Montana TEA Party Republicans in the last legislature. Given this fact, is it any surprise that rightwingers are willing to go through any means necessary to takeover the supreme court with TEA Party sympathizers? We knew this was coming. Now, it’s time to do something about it. That ballet initiative that takes away the right of Montanans for every Supreme Court Judge and only lets you vote for one “in your district” is part and parcel with this strategy.

  7. Montanan4Freedom

    I agree with Fact Checker that the “ballet initiative” is dangerous. Long live Irish Clogging!
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  8. Dave Skinner

    Um, how come nobody here even bothers to concede that judgeships are elected positions and therefore political in Montana — thanks to our “progressive” state constitution?
    Or how judicial elections are complete inside baseball between the Bar Association and the MTLA factions of the legal “profession?”
    But I was kind of wondering about McKinnon, and the fact that Swandal is on board clarifies matters.
    There is usually so little information about judicial biases (for example, Best is a flaming warmunist AND a Franke Wilmer donor) that any information right or left, even centrist, is like gold when it comes to a vote.
    I for one am sick to death of the random crapshoot that is our judicial vote.

    1. Mark Tokarski

      This will get even worse in the Citizens United era. Judges will be purchased outright instead of just heavily influenced by campaign donors.

      If I wrote the rules, judges would receive life appointment from the governor and be ratified 2/3 of the State Senate, and be subject to mandatory retirement age. They should be removable by popular vote, but only for crimes or tort offenses spelled out in law. I simply don’t think the public, ill-informed, distracted, and deeply prejudiced, ought to be putting judges on the bench.

    2. Moorcat

      Um.. Dave, maybe you haven’t paid attention but quite a few people here have issues with the politicalization of the Judicial branch – both here in Montana and at the Federal level. Hell, I have posted literally thousands of pixels about the issue here in Dillon with our very own “good old boy” Judge Tucker. It isn’t that people are not paying attention. It is that every attempt to address the situation is either outright stopped at the legislative level or undermined by the very system that benefits by undermining it.

      Take Montana’s recall law. This was enacted by a Citizen Initiative and every decision made about it from the Supreme Court level to the most recent District Court decision here in Dillon has undermined that initiative to the point of uselessness. It is easier, now, to prove an elected official guilty of a crime than it is to successfully recall.

      This is not just an issue with Judges (though they enjoy even more protection than our elected political officers), and it certainly isn’t one that has “gone under the radar”.

      1. Dave Skinner

        Mark and Murk:
        I agree that judges, or at least the Supremes, should be a governor/Senate ratification kind of thing, although not necessarily a supermajority. Put it on rotation, hold hearings, put a term on the seat, make sure there’s no way to pack the court.
        As for the local judgeships, that should still be a local thing, if only because we have a part-time legislature that is already too busy during the session.

        1. Mark Tokarski

          I find it hard to reconcile acceptance of campaign contributions and conflict of interest. (To be honest, I think acceptance of campaign contributions from anyone reacts a conflict. Public office should not be for sale.)

          As an accountant, I cannot own even one share of a company that I might participator in an audit on. Lawyers are severe about conflicts. I believe that judges have to be free of political campaigns. I can’t see any other way than to bypass the electorate, put judges at all levels up by appointment and ratification by super majority (the every-other year legislature is a joke, as the public’s business needs attending at all times) but leave open a door for removal by popular vote if they violate statutory guidelines regarding crime and tort offenses.

  9. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

    The only People who can really take Judges to task are Bar associations. Lawyers usually wont go it alone if the have to be before that Judge or his Judge friends.

    I think social media + the press, would make the recall process easier, But so would a decent legislative Body in this state that could dail up and strengthen recall laws.

    Hell, every time we turn around a law is weakened in this state and some Republican Lacky, tries to see how much he can get away with before he goes to jail… why would it be any different with Judges.

    Lastly Judges have been political since roman times, and people have judge shopped just as long. So the next best thing is term limits on everything Judge……….. except state and federal supreme courts.

    1. Moorcat

      Norma,

      That is a somewhat unrealistic view. All the social media/press outcry in the world won’t change the laws (or more accurately, the way the law has been interpreted by the court). Recall is currently dead in Montana. I invite you to look into it but be prepared to be just as utterly disgusted as I am. You can start with the decision handed down by District Court Tucker in the Malesich recall effort.

      1. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

        Not really, we as regular Folk Might not understand all the laws, but the Attorney General is in some cases the right way to go, so would the governor, depending on the complaints.

        I made a few Phone calls this afternoon to the capital, and I can tell you that this Livingstone judge issue, it is not a Political practices issue, Because it deals in professions and Judical review.

        It is, a Montana supreme court Issue, and any Montana can file a complaint regarding this perceived violation of ethics. Has anyone filed yet? No! And that is all the information I was given until such time a complaint does become public by Montana Law!

        So any person who has all the information regarding this case in Livingston can file, so can any other Montanan do the same, just make the call, and fill out the paperwork they send you regarding such a complaint. Its your time to shine Livingston Dems, you can file this if you believe an ethic breach has been committed.

        If any of you feel, you have seen a wrong committed, and your county officials are not handling it in a fair way, call the attorney general hotline, or Governors hotline for help, they tell me they try and help every Truthful problem that comes along!

        But lets make one thing clear, they need some proof of evidence to back up whatever claim you file, a lot of complainers who have called them in the past, have been retaliatory attacks regarding personalities.

        Lastly, Make sure you at least go to the County AG first, as they might be even the quicker response! That is their jobs, and they can help you start an state action quicker if need be. I had to use our AG Jed Fitch Once, and my family was treated fairly and we got the job done!

        You have to apply some elbow grease in just about every thing you do Montanans, and I guarantee if I get elected you can come to me too. That’s what our job entails, And I plan to hold a spot at a local restaurant once a week for just that. Listening and helping people find there way, when it is needed!

        1. Moorcat

          Good luck with contacting the State AG’s office. I have contacted them no less than 7 times – with complete packages of information. I was only replied to once and it was one of those “Thank you for contacting us” replies. I have no faith what so ever in that process.

          As far as the Judge situation, Political Practices would only apply to McKinnion’s campaign, Not Swansal.

          1. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

            No I contacted them about two hours ago, they do not do judge races at all, It is all Supreme Court!

            1. Moorcat

              That is interesting given that their mandate is enforce the political practices of all elections. That in and of itself is something to be asking questions about.

            2. Cowgirl Post author

              I just learned, from the AP article by Matt Volz:

              That forum is the Judicial Standards Commission, which reviews complaints against judges. Susan Parshall, head of the commission, acknowledged seeing a copy of the letter but said she cannot disclose whether a complaint has been filed against Swandal.

              1. Moorcat

                Ummm Rob translated that link down below. I see the Standard’s Commission dealing with Swansal, but it was my understanding that a campaign violation by McKinnion would be dealt with by the office of Political Practices. Norma says that she was told that Political Practices doesn’t deal with Judicial Elections which is weird because on paper they are suppose to. I will have ask Monica Lindeen about it on Friday.

                1. Cowgirl Post author

                  Norma made the call as she mentions above, but let us know if you find out any other paths to getting this addressed. There may be more than one.

                  1. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

                    Judges are handled by their professional peers only…. That was what I was told by the political practice office and it was pretty much confirmed by the AG administator. I stand by what I was told!

                    1. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

                      “Administrator” sorry hit the reply button a little too soon. All I can say is if a good number of democrats can get beck into the house we will have a lot of wrongs to right…. the recall law is one of them!

                    2. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

                      Susan is who I spoke too also. she was very helpful and transparent about the process of handling of complaints.

                    3. Moorcat

                      I am curious how the Recall Law would be addressed. The Supreme Court decision and subsequent decisions are a matter of record now. To change it would take major legislation – subject to Supreme Court Approval.

                    4. Norma Duffy AKA ILIKEWOODS

                      Well it would take votes for it, but their are plenty of laws on recalls throughout the USA that already out there, and would be readily acceptable to the Montana supreme court. Ive got to read about what you are talking about Moorecat, to see what you are seeing…. got a link to that case???? I would like to see what they considered unenforceable first!

                    5. Moorcat

                      Sorry, Norma, I do not have any links to the case. I have the actual case files. I was involved in the second recall effort because I was reporting about it on my now defunct site, Pragmatic Revolt. In fact, it was one of the reasons Malesich had me arrested.

                      I would point out, though, that Recall laws from another state was EXACTLY the justification Tucker used to gut recall law. Rather than take the example of states that have similar wording and structure to decide the Malesich case, he chose to take a page from Florida, which has a MUCH different recall structure than we do.

                      Many things occured during that fiasco that had (and have) a large number of people in Dillon angry as hell.

                      For example, At one point, Malesich’s hit attorney attempted to force the court to hand over the list of people that signed the petition to recall Malesich. While the court denied his petition, somehow he and Malesich ended up with it anyway.

      1. Moorcat

        Thanks for the link. It does clear up the process for dealing with a judge at that level.

        I would also amend my earlier statement about Judge McKinnion. Since her campaign distributed the letter, there is some question as to whether her campaign could be admonished by the office of Political Practices. At this point, though, it doesn’t appear that a complaint has been filed against her.

    1. Moorcat

      There is nothing overblown about following the law as a JUDGE. It is really that simple. To interpret the law you first have to know it and respect it.

      1. Jack ruby

        Sure and I voted against him when he ran for the supreme court but I don’t think it rises to the level of much importance. What was the recall case you referred to about judge Tucker I was curious about that.

        1. Moorcat

          There were two attempts to Recall Dillon Mayor Malesich. The second ended with an extremely bias judgement that basically redefined the Recall law here in Montana. In that Judgement, Judge Tucker effectively rewrote the law to say that you can only recall a politician if that politician has committed an actual crime, and only if you have proven it in court. Further, you can only accuse a politician of one violation at a time. In short, he made it easier to file criminal charges against a politician than it is to actually recall one and further, he elimanated the original text of the voter approved recall law that allows a constituancy to recall a politician for not doing his damn job or acting unethically.

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