Pastor, newspaper publisher pulls another set of articles from website

Online articles, radio show focused on Whitefish bank institution

By: - June 17, 2022 5:05 pm

The banner of Pastor J.D. Hall’s Facebook page (Photo via Facebook).

While Pastor Jordan David Hall’s legal problems with a series of stories he wrote about a transgender Native American lobbyist may have ended last month with a retraction, apology and quarter million dollar settlement, another lawsuit was brewing.

As the settlement for a libel claim against lobbyist Adrian Jawort was being finalized, an attorney for the Whitefish Federal Credit Union had filed preliminary paperwork asking a bankruptcy judge not to discharge any future claims the banking institution had against Hall and his Montana Daily Gazette because it was contemplating legal action against Hall.

Neither Hall nor his attorney responded to requests for comment on this story.

The genesis for the new complaint was a series of articles the Montana Daily Gazette had done on the credit union, spanning several months and claiming the bank had engaged in seizing assets and paying handsome, unchecked sums to executives. The claims were also broadcast extensively on a radio station, also under Hall’s control.

Last week, the Whitefish Credit Union’s claims were voluntarily dismissed, after the series of articles on the credit union were scrubbed from the website.

“The Montana Daily Gazette published articles that falsely stated Whitefish Credit Union acted in unethical ways. The articles have been removed from the Montana Daily Gazette, and we acknowledge Mr. Hall’s decision to remove this content,” said Josh Wilson, vice president of marketing for Whitefish Credit Union.

The stories also claimed that the Montana Daily Gazette was showing documents to credit union members in efforts to persuade them to pull business, prompting, in part, the banking institution’s basis for the lawsuit, which had claimed that business was suffering harm at the hands of Hall and the Daily Gazette.

“(Hall) knowingly chose not to investigate and corroborate the incidents reported in the articles, statements and other content, even though the defendant should have known that such incidents were unlikely to have occurred and that only through corroboration could he meet reasonable professional obligations,” the court document said.

Hall and the Montana Daily Gazette in some reporting claimed that the FBI, county investigators, state investigators and the Flathead County Attorney were looking into the case and had confirmed the allegations.

Yet the basis for those statements was misleading. For example, one of the people interviewed in the series of articles was Montana State Sen. David Howard, a Republican from Park City, who told the Montana Daily Gazette that he had worked for the FBI in busting banking corruption in Chicago, and he’d worked briefly in white-collar crimes. Another law enforcement official had previously worked for the Flathead County Sheriff’s Department as an investigator, but was not employed by the county currently and had not been a part of any investigation regarding the federal credit union.

The Montana Daily Gazette also claimed that Flathead County Attorney Travis Ahner had told a group of people that there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the credit union for financial crimes, but that he lacked the staff to prosecute. The Daily Montanan contacted Ahner, who denied the entire account.

The Daily Gazette also claimed that the Montana Attorney General was looking into the case as well. That office did not respond to inquiries about this matter.

Nearly a month ago, Hall reached a settlement with transgender Native American lobbyist Adrian Jawort, apologizing and retracting an article in which Hall falsely said Jawort had attacked Montana State Sen. Butch Gillespie.

Not so apologetic

In a recent post by Hall on Facebook, though, he seems to retreat from the apology he posted to Jawort in the Montana Daily Gazette.

“I do not retract the comments, but will add that press accounts which imply that what was stated was *willfully* incorrect or purposefully falsified are inaccurate and take great liberties with what was actually stated,” he said.

Previously, Hall had apologized and retracted the article, a technical term by which a publisher states it can no longer stand by the veracity of what it had previously published.

“I apologize to Adrian Jawort. The information I published about Adrian was false. Adrian did not threaten or harass Senator Butch Gillespie. I regret the error and sincerely apologize to Adrian for publishing it,” Hall said as part of the settlement with Jawort.

Hall blames “opposing counsel” for forcing the apology and crafting the words. Hall said the Jawort story was published “from the perspective of those witnesses.” However, in the original account, the Daily Gazette reported two anonymous claims that Jawort had been aggressive in the Capitol, but the publication never named them.

“We presumed the Montana Daily Gazette would be covered by the Montana journalism shield law, and ‘alleged’ or ‘reported’ would suffice to cover our liability,” Hall said on Facebook.

Jawort told the Daily Montana that she was not at the Capitol on that day, and did not testify on a bill that was ultimately passed that prohibits transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports.

Originally, Sen. Gillespie, R-Ethridge, signed an affidavit filed by Hall’s attorneys, yet in that affidavit, Gillespie never claims the person who yelled at him for his position on transgender athletes was Jawort.

When contacted by the Daily Montanan, Gillespie said he still isn’t certain what Jawort looks like, and that’s why he didn’t name anyone in testimony.

“Is that the big guy in high heels?” Gillespie said. “If that’s the case, (Jawort) only testified for one bill, which was on the American Prairie Reserve.”

The person who followed him to the Senate and was upset by the proposed transgender legislation was not known to Gillespie.

“I didn’t know the guy. I still don’t,” Gillespie said. “I told him that you’re not going to probably like my position because I don’t think guys should be competing with girls no matter what they call themselves.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.