Commissioner of Political Practices rejects ethics complaint against McMahon

By: - June 2, 2022 7:36 pm

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

As swiftly as he received it, the Commissioner of Political Practices tossed  an ethics complaint filed by a Bozeman lawyer against district court judge Michael McMahon, who is running for the Montana Supreme Court.

In an order Thursday, Commissioner Jeffrey Mangan said he was rejecting the complaint for failing to state a potential violation of the code of ethics. He said a judicial officer is part of the judicial branch of state government “and therefore excluded from the definition of a ‘public officer’” connected to the code of ethics.

“Although Judge McMahon is a ‘public officer’ under the Montana Recall Act, Mont. Code Ann. 2-16-603(1), the Code of Ethics provides for a narrower definition of public official that applies to ethical obligations and potential violations,” the commissioner wrote. “Given the express and plain language of the Code of Ethics, the Commissioner rejects the emailed complaint.”

In a complaint signed Thursday, lawyer Matthew Monforton had alleged Lewis and Clark County District Judge McMahon had violated the ethics code by talking in his office with reporters about his campaign. The lawyer pointed to an earlier finding that former Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney was in violation of using his Capitol office for a campaign conference call.

“In general, members of the judicial branch are subject to their own code of ethics (IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF MONTANA) and complaints are handled by the Judicial Standards Commission,” the commissioner wrote.

Monforton said the Judicial Standards Commission precludes disclosure of any complaint until an initial ruling so he could not address whether he had made a report in that venue. However, he said he would appeal Mangan’s decision to district court.

This story was updated to add comment from Monforton.

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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.”