- Associated Press - Friday, October 21, 2016

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) - Most of the contenders attending Thursday’s judicial candidates’ forum at the Meadow Lark Country Club gave friendly, gentle pitches about why people should vote for them Nov. 8.

Dirk Sandefur wasn’t one of them.

Sandefur, a candidate for Supreme Court seat No. 3, tore into opponent Kristen Juras, saying she did not have the expertise to be a judge on the high court.

Juras and Sandefur, as well as Supreme Court Judges Mike McGrath and James Shea, who are up for re-election and unopposed, along with District Court Judge John Kutzman, who is also unopposed and seeking another term, spoke to nearly 40 people attending the Cascade County Bar Association event.

“I’ve been in a dogfight, and I’m tired of it,” Sandefur said about the nonpartisan race to fill the seat of Judge Patricia Cotter as he criticized Juras‘ experience and said her claims of expertise in matters of water and easement law was “hooey.”

The event took on something of the demeanor of a courtroom when attorney Zander Blewett III asked Juras if it was fair to say Sandefur was soft on crime as some campaign ads suggested and repeated the question until Juras said she believed he was soft on crime for the handful of cases mentioned in the ad.

The law school at the University of Montana where Juaras teaches is named after Blewett.

He then asked Juras if she knew how many total cases Sandefur had ruled on.

She didn’t.

“Your ignorance is astounding,” Sandefur said. He also said several people in the Montana State Prison system would disagree that he was soft on crime.

Sandefur, a judge on the 8th District Court in Great Falls, said Juras was not a civil litigator, she never represented a criminal defendant and had not spent “significant” time in court.

Earlier in the evening, Juras told attendees she had been in court hundreds of times in her 34 years in legal practice.

“That’s a busy month for me,” Sandefur said.

Juras countered later that the high court has had four significant water rights cases before it since January and had 24 cases regarding easements in 2013.

She said her experience in those matters would benefit the court.

In her speech to the Cascade County Bar Association, Juras played up her experience as a law school professor, saying it helped her hone her research writing skills. She said she would bring the perspective of an attorney who has practiced family law, property and business law. She would help make the court more diverse.

Sandefur called the water rights issue “a red herring,” and said Juras, a University of Montana law school professor, was not a recognized water rights practitioner.

He said he has also ruled on easement cases in his courtroom.

McGrath said 50 percent of the Supreme Court’s 560 cases last year were criminal cases, 25 percent are domestic relations cases and the remainder are dependent/neglect cases.

Juras also faced some tough questions from the crowd.

Lee Newspapers recently reported fundraising by political action committees has reached $518,262 and the candidates themselves have collected another $633,868.

Based on inflation-adjusted totals dating back to 1990, the combined committee and campaign fundraising for Sandefur is about $900,000, setting a record for the most money collected to support a Montana Supreme Court candidate.

Juras and her supporters have raised roughly $250,000.

Sandefur has the support of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association and several Montana Supreme Court justices. Juras has the endorsement of the Montana Chamber of Commerce.

Juras accused Sandefur and the Montana Trial Attorneys of disparaging her family and saying she has been bought.

Juras said they each have talents they could bring to the high court.

“We are both qualified candidates,” she said, later adding “your experience is relevant, my experience is relevant.”

Sandefur denied commenting about Juras‘ family, only criticizing her experience. He also accused her of out-of-state dark money attacks.

“I know you,” he said. “I think you’re a good person.”

Juras noted she had handily won the June 7 primary.


Information from: Great Falls Tribune, https://www.greatfallstribune.com

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