Monforton asks Montana Supreme Court to take supervisory control of CI-121 case

‘This court must end this gross injustice’

By: - January 14, 2022 6:25 pm

The entrance to the Montana Supreme Court (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

A lawyer and sponsor of Constitutional Initiative 121 wants the Montana Supreme Court to let him keep collecting signatures for the measure, which would put a cap on residential property taxes.

In a petition filed Friday, Matthew Monforton is asking the Montana Supreme Court to stay a Lewis and Clark County District Court’s order enjoining signature gathering for his ballot initiative.

Monforton is also asking the state Supreme Court to assert control over the District Court, alleging multiple errors in the previous ruling. Montana state auditor Troy Downing also is a sponsor to CI-121 and defendant in the District Court case.

Last week, the Secretary of State approved CI-121 for circulation, and Monforton’s petition for writ of supervisory control said “hundreds of Montanans have downloaded the petition since then and are circulating it.”

Wednesday, though, the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the Farmer’s Union and other plaintiffs filed a complaint asking the District Court to enjoin signature gathering, alleging a failed process in evaluating and approving the initiative for collecting signatures. Thursday, Judge Michael McMahon issued a temporary restraining order against defendants, including Monforton, reads the court filing.

“Judge McMahon did not give any notice to Monforton whatsoever prior to issuing the order,” said the petition. “Monforton is informed, believes and therefore alleges that Judge McMahon did not give notice to any of the other Defendants either before issuing his ruling.”

The petition characterized the lack of notice as “an outrageous violation.”

In his argument, Monforton said the Montana Supreme Court is to take supervisory control over a district court if the court proceeding “is based on a mistake of law, which if uncorrected, would cause significant injustice for which appeal is an inadequate remedy.”

Monforton argues the matter is urgent because a short window for gathering signatures exists: “The loss of First Amendment freedoms, such as signature gathering for petitions, ‘for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.'”

The lawyer argues that an appeal would be an inadequate remedy because every day that passes is another day petitioners can’t gather signatures, and signatures are required from at least 10 percent of qualified electors, “a high hurdle.” The petition said any delay “will likely prove fatal” to the effort.

Monforton also said the plaintiffs filed their action in the wrong court and at the wrong time, and they should have waited for the 10-day window that starts when the Secretary of State certifies the initiative to the governor, which would be July 15, 2022.

“The reason for this timing rule is obvious,” the petition said. “The vast majority of ballot initiatives fail to receive a sufficient number of signatures to qualify for the general election ballot.”

So Monforton argues that the District Court never should have ruled on the plaintiffs’ motion at all.

“The District Court’s baseless injunction is entirely without merit and is interfering with the constitutional rights of thousands of Montanans,” the petition said. “This Court must end this gross injustice.”

Writ

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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