Montana Public Radio

Justices Decline To Recuse Themselves From Court Administrator Case

May 12, 2021

The Montana Supreme Court has denied an order asking all seven justices to recuse themselves from hearing a case regarding the state court administrator. It’s the latest development in an ongoing dispute between Republican legislative leaders and the judicial branch. 

The Supreme Court’s decision means that the justices will hear and rule on a case involving Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin and the Legislature’s power to subpoena. 

Montana Supreme Court Justice Laurie McKinnon

Republican lawmakers subpoenaed McLaughlin to appear in committee and turn over her state computer, but the Supreme Court blocked that order. Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen argued the justices shouldn’t be ruling in the case, saying they have a conflict of interest.

The latest Court opinion written by Justice Laurie McKinnon states that public confidence in the court’s integrity, honesty and leadership would be compromised if the justices were to “succumb to the Legislature’s request and evade our responsibilities and obligations as a Court.”

Republican lawmakers have accused the court administrator of misconduct and the justices of pre-judging cases. The lawmakers created a special select committee to investigate the issue. 

Republican Sen. Greg Hertz, chair of that committee, sent out a statement saying the Supreme Court gave conflicting reasoning for why they won’t recuse themselves and “continues to sink itself into a deeper and deeper conflict of interest.”