This article is part 1 of an investigative series looking into judicial corruption in the state of Montana.
The Montana judiciary is in deep trouble. The Wall Street Journal picked up on a local story that has been exploding since last April but has just now started to get national attention. In April, the Montana judiciary was caught red-handed lobbying against bills that would lead to more accountability for judges. This comes right on the heels of the scathing Wall Street Journal report that found hundreds of judges refusing to recuse themselves from hearing cases in which they had financial investments — a story that reached even the Supreme Court — as the judiciary is being exposed.
State lawmakers learned this year that Montana judges had opined on proposed legislation in response to a survey of their views from Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin. Lawmakers worried that this compromised the impartiality of judges who may hear cases challenging the legality of new legislation. But when lawmakers asked to see the correspondence, Ms. McLaughlin said the emails no longer existed. Lawmakers tried to retrieve them from the Department of Administration, which houses state email archives.
Lawmakers had to send subpoenas to the judiciary to get the emails about judicial lobbying, but in response, the Supreme Court simply moved to quash “all the subpoenas — including the ones issued to them,” said Montana’s Attorney General Austin Knudson.
The Montana Daily Gazette has done extensive work on this scandal, including publishing all of the incriminating emails.
These emails contained information that was highly embarrassing to the court, which the Montana Daily Gazette has written about at length here, here, here, and here. The Supreme Court and the Admin got caught with their pants down, with their hands in the cookie jar, with a flashlight sneaking out the window to go meet some fellow Democrat paramour or any other folksy way of saying that they got busted doing VERY BAD THINGS.
The justices went ballistic and struck back. They ruled the subpoena invalid and demanded that the legislature be prohibited from “disseminating, publishing, or reproducing” any further information from the emails and asked for it to be returned immediately.
What started all of this?
A group of fed-up citizens who had suffered false imprisonments, loss of children, and more at the hands of corrupt judges formed the Montana State Council on Judicial Accountability (MSCJA) and began lobbying the state for new oversight and real accountability. They drafted legislation: bill number SB685, which would create a citizen’s oversight board for judicial complaints. SB685 got a sponsor and began to make its way through the legislative process. At the same time, bill SB140 was introduced, which would allow the Governor to appoint judges instead of a political panel of insiders called the Judicial Nomination Commission. According to the Gazette, the Montana Supreme Court is “stacked with leftists,” thanks to that commission.
The left-leaning court took exception to a bill that would limit their ability to have friends appointed and instead hand that power over to the governor, who is elected by the people, and — for the first time in 16 years — is a Republican, Greg Gianforte. The Gazette wrote:
Clearly, the left-leaning court took exception to SB140, and a poll was conducted via email (and several by phone) of 37 judges across the state for their position on the bill. In total, 34 judges voiced opposition, and 3 voiced support for the bill. The poll was used to determine how the Court should lobby the legislature through the Montana Judges Association.
While SB140 passed, SB685 got hung up in committees, largely due to the judiciary interfering in the legislative process. Internal emails prove the Montana Supreme Court actively organized against both bills.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath wrote, in an email to colleagues, “They don’t seem to care much for Judicial Standards now that they’ve found out about it.” He was referring to the wildly unpopular “oversight” committee that tosses 98% of the complaints against judges. “We will need to pick off some votes here to keep it below 100,” he advised. So much for an “independent” judiciary.
McGrath further opined in another email about the same bill that “the problem here is it allows a citizen’s commission to discipline or remove judges.” The black-robed mafia can’t stand the thought of regular Joes (who normally stand before them in abject misery) having any amount of control or oversight of them. But who checks the judiciary? It’s supposed to be the legislature — the very same legislature that the judiciary in Montana has its lobbyists cajoling into voting “no” on any bill that would check them! According to Abraham Lincoln, it is the People who are the rightful masters of Congress and the Courts. A citizen’s board of accountability would actually be the perfect answer to an out-of-control judiciary, and perhaps that’s why Judge McGrath is so against it. If the citizens of Montana could discipline the judges, the bad behavior would come to a screeching halt.
McGrath continued his assault on transparency and accountability with snarky commentary on the SB685. “Just noticed that the new name will be ‘The Judicial Inquiry Commission.’ Think this is straight out of the book, Where Democracies Go to Die.”
Rebecca Meyers, a lobbyist for the state of Montana, wrote an email to the judiciary, saying, “Hopefully you all saw that SB685 just died on the second reading 47-52 which is great news … thanks for all your hard work on 685,” she wrote.
Bart Crabtree, President of MSCJA, spoke to PJ Media about the terrible condition the state’s judiciary is in. “We are trying to abolish the Judicial Standard Commission, which oversees grievances against judges,” he said. “They have an over 98% dismissal rate and, of course, their excuse is always the same mantra; ‘those are just people who are not happy with rulings,'” he said. “But the reason these people are not happy with rulings is that the judges are breaking the law and they are violating the judicial canon of ethics and they are never held accountable for it.”
Crabtree had his own terrifying experience with the Montana judiciary that he is still appealing, having spent seventeen months in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. “Our goal is to create the state’s first Conviction Integrity Unit. There are about seventy of them across the United States now,” he said. “Here in Montana we have roughly about fifteen thousand people in the penal system and 5 percent of them are wrongfully convicted,” he said. “It’s a huge burden on taxpayers not to mention the harm it does to the families. This needs to be dealt with.”
“The Judicial Standards Commission is only comprised of five people,” said Crabtree. “Two of the members who chair it are District Court judges. So we have judges, overseeing judges. It’s crazy.” The other three members are a lawyer and two at-large citizens who are usually friends of the judges or the governor, according to Crabtree. “What we are trying to do is create a citizen’s oversight commission of about ten or twelve people that would oversee grievances against judges.”
Crabtree was close to succeeding, too, until the judges got wind of it and shut it down with lobbyists and political maneuvering — which was exposed in the emails. “I was pretty appalled by an awful lot of them,” said Crabtree, referring to the leaked emails. “And the one that stood out to me the most is our own chief justice, Mike McGrath, who made a comment in there that ‘well, now that the people of Montana know about the Judicial Standards Commission, they don’t care very much for it.’ He actually said that!”
But Crabtree accomplished a huge goal with the MSCJA’s push for legislative solutions. “That was my whole purpose of bringing this was to make the citizens aware of the worthless Judicial Standards Commission.” Crabtree and the others on his board of directors of MSCJA are all victims of the Montana court system and have been personally affected either through false imprisonment or losing their children in contentious custody battles with biased judges, or losing children to corrupt social services agents or guardians ad litem who work with the courts against parents. The judicial emails revealed that the judges were mocking them and calling them “goofy” in at least one email. “They try to gaslight these people,” said Crabtree. “They try to shame them, but they’re not going to shut me up.”
Crabtree’s petition for post-conviction relief was just submitted to the Supreme Court this month. Convicted of a $2500 theft he says he not only didn’t commit but tried to solve by turning in the culprit (who had friends in the court and on the police department), Crabtree served seventeen months in prison. That seems like an awfully stiff penalty for a $2500 theft. “I missed my daughter’s entire senior year of high school. The fallout from this is just horrendous.”
“These people that have such a passion for this, they have been personally screwed over by the court system,” said Crabtree. “There are facts pointing to the corruption going on and we have a lot of legislators who are in our corner. They are very aware of the corruption going on in the judiciary and right now the time is ripe to do something.”
SB685 is not “dead” yet, as the lobbyist claimed, but has gone to the Justice Interim Committee and will be heard on Jan. 19. The bill’s co-sponsor is Republican state representative Brad Tschida. PJ Media reached out to Chief Justice McGrath with some questions about his emails but was unable to reach him by time of publishing. If he does respond, we will update the article.