- Associated Press - Friday, January 31, 2020

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s Judicial Standards Commission filed a complaint Friday against a judge from Billings alleging she violated rules of conduct while running for office and was not “candid and honest” when questioned about another allegation.

The complaint by retired District Judge Ed McLean, alleges Judge Ashley Harada received and made partisan endorsements in elections; gave false and misleading statements about her qualifications and experience during her campaign; employed someone as a babysitter and/or office worker before seeking office without reporting that person’s wages to the IRS; and made false or misleading statements to try and prevent that employee from being admitted to the University of Montana Law School due to a personal grievance.

After Harada was elected, she denied under oath that she had employed the person, the complaint states.

The conduct warrants disciplinary action in accordance with judicial standards in the state, McLean wrote.

Harada was unavailable Friday for comment. Her attorney, retired District Judge Russell Fagg, said he hadn’t received a copy of the complaint - which was posted on the Montana Supreme Court website - and declined to comment on the allegations.

“If Judge Harada has made a mistake, she will admit to those mistakes, and where she doesn’t believe she has made a mistake, she will be denying those allegations,” Fagg told The Billings Gazette. “In any case, we look forward to resolving this matter quickly, and allowing Judge Harada to continue serving the citizens of Yellowstone County who have elected her.”

Fagg said he would work to reach a stipulated agreement with McLean and the Judicial Standards Commission. If no agreement is reached, he said Harada would file a written response to the complaint. A hearing would be held after that.

Commission recommendations could then range from censure to removal, or the complaint could be dismissed in favor of Harada.

The complaint alleges Harada made false or misleading statements during her campaign by taking credit for two years of law experience that happened under the student practice rule and gave herself credit for 80 jury trials that took place while she was a law clerk for a federal judge and on inactive status with the Montana Bar Association.

She also had endorsements from the Yellowstone County Republican Party, a GOP legislative candidate and a Libertarian U.S. House candidates on her Facebook page, the complaint states. It also says her law firm made a donation to a Democratic candidate for Congress and that she endorsed two Republican candidates.

Under the rules of conduct, candidates in nonpartisan judicial races cannot solicit funds for or make a contribution to a political organization or partisan candidate, or seek, accept or use endorsements from a political organization or a non-judicial office holder or candidate.

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