AG opposes Motl’s term extension; wants Supreme Court to decide - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

AG opposes Motl’s term extension; wants Supreme Court to decide

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Attorney General Tim Fox Attorney General Tim Fox
Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl

Attorney General Tim Fox said Tuesday in court papers that the term of Montana’s top political enforcer should have ended Jan. 1 – and the state Supreme Court should take over and decide the lawsuit trying to extend the term.

Fox asked a state judge to allow him to intervene in the lawsuit seeking to extend the term of Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl until 2019 – and then to immediately halt the case and let the Montana Supreme Court decide it.

Fox said the case would end up before the Supreme Court anyway, and needs to be decided quickly, while the 2017 Legislature is still in session.

If the lawsuit trying to extend Motl’s term fails, a new commissioner must be appointed by the governor – and must be confirmed by the Montana Senate, which meets only until April, Fox noted.

Fox’s filings are the latest move in an unusual legal ploy to extend until mid-2019 the term of Motl, Montana’s often-controversial commissioner of political practices.

Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, appointed Motl in mid-2013 and said his term would expire Jan. 1, 2017, filling out the six-year term of prior commissioners who didn’t serve the full term, for various reasons.

But three weeks ago, a coalition of Democratic and Republican officeholders and former officeholders and left-leaning groups filed suit in state District Court, saying Motl actually should serve a full six-year term himself, until July 2019.

The lawsuit named Bullock as the defendant. Not long after the suit was filed Dec. 20, Bullock and the plaintiffs reached an agreement that Motl would continue to serve as commissioner while the suit was resolved.

But Fox said in filings Tuesday that agreement is invalid. The attorney general, not Bullock, is the officer who defends state interests in lawsuits, he said.

Fox said he believes that Motl’s term should have expired Jan. 1, and asked District Judge Mike McMahon to allow Fox to “intervene” and argue the state’s position in the case.

If he is allowed to intervene, Fox said the judge should stop the case in District Court and instead transfer it directly to the Supreme Court, which should decide it quickly.

He also asked the judge to decide the issue by the end of the week, saying speed is of the essence.

Fox noted that the state is facing several significant lawsuits challenging the authority of Motl to enforce campaign-finance laws. Motl’s extended term could further complicate those cases, if it’s found that the term was extended improperly, Fox said.

Last week, Montana Senate Republicans also introduced a resolution that, if passed, would direct the Legislature to ask to intervene in the case as well, saying the lawsuit undermines the Senate’s right to confirm the next commissioner of political practices.

About Mike Dennison

MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison joined MTN News in August 2015 after a 23-year career as a newspaper reporter covering Montana politics and state government. While some may believe that politics are boring, Mike firmly believes that's not the case if you tell the story with pizzazz and let people know why the story is important.
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