The Montana Supreme Court has ordered that Judge Matthew Wald of the Twenty-Second Judicial District, which includes Big Horn County, has been appointed to serve in place of Chief Justice Mike McGrath in the case of Senate Bill 140, which will determine how judges are appointed in Montana.
Wald has been appointed to replace Kurt Krueger of Silver Bow County, who recused himself after being appointed to the same position, after it was revealed he had participated in an informal judges poll on the issue of the governor directly appointing judges rather than using the judicial nomination commission, which has been the practice since it was established in 1973.
Krueger recused himself and the court had originally decided to hear the case with six justices. However, after Republicans in the Legislature raised constitutional concerns about having only six — not seven — justices hear the case, setting up the possibility of a tie vote — the court appointed Wald.
In a footnote in the order, issued Tuesday, the court said that Wald had not participated in the poll on Senate Bill 140, which was conducted via the Montana Judges Association.
Acting Chief Justice Jim Rice signed the order on Monday, meaning there will be a full seven-member court to hear the challenge as to whether Senate Bill 140 is constitutional.