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Guest view: Criticims of McKinnon badly miss the mark

Guest view: Criticims of McKinnon badly miss the mark

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In a recent guest opinion of Mr. Mike Black, I was saddened to read the lies and misrepresentations he has made about me in his campaign for the Montana Supreme Court.

He asserted Montana voters deserved an explanation from me and, in response, I too believe the record should be set straight.

Mr. Black makes assertions about me, with no evidence to back them up, demonstrating he does not have the integrity or leadership required to sit on Montana’s highest court and that he will grasp at anything to win this election.

Mr. Black has twice sought an appointment to the Court. On both occasions the non-partisan Judicial Nomination Commission declined to recommend him to the Governor for appointment, instead recommending other more qualified candidates.

Deflecting from his lack of qualifications, he now resorts to lies and misrepresentations about my decisions, my home, and the legitimacy of my election to the Court eight years ago. Mr. Black’s deceitful campaign tactics are exactly the reason I initially did not seek reelection.

I have served Montanans since 1995, first as a deputy county attorney and then as an elected district court judge. When elected to the Montana Supreme Court in 2012, I was the only candidate with any judicial experience, and I disavowed the negative advertising and campaigning from outside groups that was taking place. Over the past 8 years I have served on the Montana Supreme Court, I have participated in thousands of decisions; written nearly 500 majority decisions; and another 150 or more concurring or dissenting opinions. Mr. Black faults me for writing dissenting opinions—something he knows full well all appellate judges do in the usual course and scope of their work. To be clear, my oath is to the citizens of Montana to uphold the constitution and follow the law, not to the other justices on the Court to vote with the majority.

I have always voted to protect Montanans’ constitutional rights and to follow the rule of law. One of our most fundamental constitutional rights is the right to an impartial, nonpartisan judge. I have stayed away from politics and have never contributed to any campaign, whereas Mr. Black has contributed $28,000 to democratic campaigns and over $250,000 to try to buy his seat in this election.

Mr. Black asserts my principal residence is in North Carolina. This is a shamefully fabricated lie.

I live in Helena, Montana, and prior to that resided in Choteau, Montana, although we have for years owned a vacation place in North Carolina. My husband of 32 years, a retired dentist from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, and I raised our four children in Montana and our children reside here; one is enrolled in law school at the University of Montana and another graduated from the same school and is practicing law in Missoula.

Mr. Black’s suggestion that nefarious individuals influenced my decision to run under the promise of receiving dark money is equally depraved.

I am a member of the Executive Committee of the Appellate Judges Education Institute of the American Bar Association. Yearly, this nonpartisan committee plans and produces a Summit attended by appellate judges and lawyers from across the country. In November 2019, at our Washington, D.C. Summit, I presented a panel discussion called “An Independent Judiciary: The Pillar of a Free Society.”

The panel, moderated by a constitutional law professor, consisted of a Chief Judge from the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, a retired state supreme court justice, and a federal Court of Appeals judge.

It is these distinguished colleagues, with whom I have become friends, that helped me decide I could withstand the negative campaign attacks which have permeated our recent judicial elections and encouraged me to run. Mr. Black does not really believe these appellate judges have promised dark money support for my campaign. He merely fabricates this falsehood to deflect attention from his own lack of qualifications and my 14-year record of making fair and impartial decisions consistent with the law.

Montana voters should know these lies are coming from Mr. Black’s own lips, not someone else. Do Montana voters really want a justice on the highest court of their state who will stop at nothing to win?

And, Mr. Black, the Montana Supreme Court is not for sale.

Laurie McKinnon is a Montana Supreme Court justice. She is running for reelection.


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