Sidney pastor files for bankruptcy, putting a stop to a sanction hearing scheduled for Wednesday
A screenshot capture of a forum Pastor JD Hall used to promote an event in Great Falls one day after Judge Elizabeth Best made a ruling in a libel case involving Hall.
With just 24 hours before a sanctions hearing in front of a state district court judge, Pastor Jordan Daniel “JD” Hall filed a bankruptcy petition in federal bankruptcy court in Montana.
The Sidney minister, who has held numerous fundraising rallies throughout the state to contribute toward his defense, is being sued by Adrian Jawort, a transgender Native lobbyist who alleges that an article about her damaged her reputation.
Hall was scheduled to appear before Cascade County District Court Judge Elizabeth Best on Wednesday for a hearing on sanctioning the outspoken Baptist minister who has appeared to target Jawort and her attorney, Raph Graybill, a former Democrat candidate for Attorney General. Hall also held a rally in Great Falls, the home of Best, railing against Montana’s judiciary, calling out the judge by name.
Attorneys for Jawort filed the unusual and rare motion for sanctions because of Hall’s menacing behavior, which included a picture showing the pastor’s home with hunting mounts on the wall, with one reserved for Graybill’s head. In another instance, Hall was featured with a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
Meanwhile, last week the Montana Supreme Court denied an appeal by Hall to take over the case. In that motion, Hall argued that Best had made an error in her partial judgment against the minister, ruling that Jawort was not a “limited-purpose” public figure, a legal finding that would mean her attorneys would only have to prove that Hall and his online newspaper, The Montana Daily Gazette, would have to prove negligence, not malice. In other words, Jawort would not have to prove that Hall and the Daily Gazette meant to injure her reputation, rather just prove that it should not have relied upon the unnamed witness who said they witnessed Jawort screaming at a Senator during a debate about legislation concerning transgender rights.
The Supreme Court said that it was not taking up the case because, “there is no evidence that relief on appeal would be inadequate.”
Matthew Monforton, Hall’s attorney, had argued that Best’s decision amounted to an incorrect legal finding that would instead subject Hall to going through a trial instead of dismissing the charges or determining a different legal standard.
Hall’s bankruptcy filing also puts an immediate stay, or halt, to any legal proceedings, meaning that it instantly stops the sanctions hearing that was scheduled for Wednesday. The stay is in effect for as long as 30 days, and Judge Benjamin P. Hursh may ultimately decide how the case will proceed.
Hall has filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy filing, meaning that a bankruptcy trustee has been assigned in the case. That trustee is Joseph Womack of Billings.
Graybill, Jawort’s attorney, told the Daily Montanan on Tuesday that they had just seen the filing and expected to file a response to it in federal bankruptcy court.
“Whether the bankruptcy petition is legitimate is dubious,” said a statement by Jawort’s lawyers. “Hall has done everything in his power to avoid accountability.”
Hall has repeatedly bragged in public forums and meetings about his fundraising ability, raising thousands of dollars for a legal defense fund, often from other churches. However, those assets and dollars don’t appear directly connected to him personally or with the Gideon Knox Group, a separate entity Hall owns, which has appeared at times to own or publish the Montana Daily Gazette.
However, in the Chapter 7 filing with the bankruptcy court, he listed assets of less than $50,000 and said that attorneys’ fees were the primary driver of his bankruptcy and those bills ranged between $100,000 and $500,000.
On Tuesday, the court issued a deficiency notice to Hall, saying that eight of nine documents required for bankruptcy protection were missing and giving him 14 days to file them, which includes a statement of monthly income and means testing, pay stubs and other statements.
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