Sandefur, Juras Face Off During Supreme Court Debate In Missoula

Sep 15, 2016

Montana Supreme Court candidates Kristen Juras and Dirk Sandefur debated in Missoula Thursday, at a luncheon organized by the Western Montana Bar Association

In his opening remarks, Sandefur, who’s a state district court judge, wanted one point made clear.

“I do want you to know that we do know each other. I like her personally and I have respect for her. This is about business, not about anything personal,” Sandefur said.

But what followed was a lengthy and pointed criticism of Juras’s experience – or, in his view, lack thereof.

Sandefur says Juras’ courtroom and professional background pales next to his.

He noted his time as a police officer, public defender and Deputy Cascade County Attorney.

He also characterized Juras as an ideologue who’s eager to insert her personal political and social beliefs into Supreme Court business - an accusation Juras denies.

More on that in just a moment.

First, Juras’ opening remarks focused on her own qualifications for the job.

She’s taught law at the University of Montana for 16 years.

For the past 34 years, Juras has worked as an attorney in Great Falls focusing mostly on contract, property, employment, business creation and tax cases.

She describes it as ‘transactional law’.

She acknowledges she does not have much criminal law experience under her belt:

“Fortunately we have on the court, already, former county attorneys, a former attorney general, a former assistant attorney general, a former district court judge as well as a former administrative law judge. I genuinely believe that the expertise in criminal law is already well-represented on the court. What’s missing is an attorney with 34 years’ experience in the transactional area,” Juras said.

In response to a question from an attorney at the event, Juras affirmed her commitment to Montana’s stream access laws, but added that she’d consider specific challenges on a case-by-case basis.

“So there are still some issues that could arise, but by in large the law is well settled. I think it’s a cry of wolf to suggest the courts are somehow going to in and of themselves reverse well-settled public stream access law in Montana,” Juras said.

Dirk Sandefur says Juras has raised questions about stream access laws and their impacts on property rights.

“That’s a bias that people are concerned will be brought to bear, or at least influence decisions about how to apply the law to the facts of individual cases. I think it’s a legitimate concern and I’ll leave it at that,” Sandefur said.

Kristen Juras countered that a judge with a personal opinion does not automatically introduce bias into the courtroom.

Sandefur questions that and suggested that Juras not only personally opposes same sex marriage, but has publically stated on talk radio that:

"There would be gaps – ‘gaps’ in your language – that the courts may be called to fill. You then, in a signal to people about your bias, you said, ‘People need to know who’s going to be deciding these types of cases’, with a wink and a nod that you see it a particular way," Sandefur said.

Juras did not deny the quote, but said it’s sad to suggest that a judge is disqualified from serving if he or she has traditional beliefs about marriage.

“and (it’s also sad) to suggest that Christians are unable to set aside their personal beliefs when they fill the role of a judge and fairly, consistently apply the law with a deep respect for the rights of all including those with whom they may not share the same beliefs,” Juras said.

Candidates for Montana’s contested Supreme Court seat and for Secretary of State will face off at a public forum Monday in Seeley Lake.