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PSC member doesn't care for attack ads on candidate Brown

| October 28, 2022 7:00 AM

As I was getting ready for work this morning, and enjoying the usual cup of coffee, a television ad started screaming at me telling me how awful my excellent colleague James Brown is as a Public Service Commissioner and as a Montana Supreme Court candidate, all while extolling the alleged “impartiality” of activist judge Ingrid Gustafson.

Troublingly, the ad directly references a well-known gas and electric company that does business in Montana.

This would be a company that often has legal cases before the Montana Supreme Court and Judge Gustafson. I could not figure how a sitting judge could be running an ad claiming her impartiality while attacking a public utility that regularly appears before the Court on the grounds that it is making ‘millions in profits’ and for being a ‘corporate special interest.’

So, I did some investigation of this curiosity.

As it turns out, the ad was purchased by an entity calling itself the ‘Montanans for Liberty and Justice.’

What was the amount of the ad buy. I kid you not, a hefty $260,000!!! What’s the address of that self-styled Montanans for Liberty and Justice entity? That would be 32 S. Ewing Street, Helena. Curiously, that’s the same address for the Montana Trial Lawyer’s Association.

And, low and behold the treasurer for Montanans for Liberty and Justice is Al Smith – the same Al Smith who is the well-heeled lobbyist and executive director for, wait for it, the Montana Trial Lawyer’s Association.

Surprise, Surprise.

Now, we all know that members of the Montana Trial Lawyer’s Association regularly appear before the Montana Supreme Court, including before ‘impartial’ judge Gustafson.

One has to ask in era where Montana citizens are rightly concerned about perceived conflicts of interest among members of Montana’s Supreme Court why no member of the 4th Estate, i.e. the “impartial Montana Press” has not questioned why a small group of special-interest attorneys is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence the outcome Supreme Court elections and doing so by funneling money to a dark money PAC with the cutesy name of the Montanans for Liberty and Justice.

For those of us who have watched elections for years, the fact that the Montana Trial Lawyer’s is once again spending around $500,000 so far this year in an attempt put its favored judge on the Supreme Court comes as no surprise.

What is a surprise is that neither the Montana Bar Association, the Montana Democratic Party, nor the members of the press finds such clear influence peddling and obfuscation by a group of attorneys who appear before the Supreme Court as a problem for maintaining the ‘fairness’ and ‘independence’ of our judiciary.

Brad Johnson, Helena