By Ron VandenBoom
Karla Gray, a candidate for Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, said in an interview Monday that personal philosophies, agendas, or biases should be parked at the door when a Supreme Court Judge goes to work.
"It absolutely is our duty to do that to the best of our ability," she said.
Gray made the comment in response to remarks she said her opponent, Terry Trieweiler, made in May to the media that he was politically able at the Court. She also mentioned a later unnamed gathering where he is supposed to have described himself as an advocate for certain groups and causes.
"I don't think that's what judging is about," Gray said. "If you're an advocate for something then you're against whatever the other side might be be that conservative or liberal."
Gray described herself and Trieweiler as "different kinds of judges" and as having "a very different approach to judging."
So what kind of judge does Gray see herself being?
She likes to use a description of herself that stems from a comment Trieweiler made earlier in the campaign when he described her as a "connect the dots" kind of a judge.
"That's exactly the kind of judge I am," she said, explaining that she believes it is important to connect the facts of the case and the law together when reaching a decision.
Gray concludes that in making the comment, Trieweiler is saying that connecting the dots isn't the way to decide cases and instead prefers to look at the "big picture."
The problem she said is that if "you don't like the picture you turn the picture into something else."
To do that is "politics or a personal agenda," she said. "I think that's what legislatures are for."
Gray acknowledges that the Supreme Court has become more visible in recent years due to a number of high profile cases they have had to resolve, including CI 75 a constitutional initiative that would have required voter approval for all tax or fee increases. The initiative was passed in 1998 and struck down by the Court within months amid much controversy.
Gray said she believes that it's healthy that people are taking greater notice of the Court, describing it as having been the "sleeping part of government," in relationship to the amount of attention it received from the public.
"I think it's wonderful," she said. "I think people should understand that the Court can and does have a lot of impact on things across the board."
It's one issue that Gray has used as a theme in the race.
She noted that one thing that she believes is that it is the responsibility of the Chief Justice to step to the plate and act affirmatively in looking for ways to communicate more with the people of Montana.
Gray noted that so far the Court does not even have a website which she said in this day and age is quite remarkable.
She suggests that if elected she would like to begin what she calls "Montana Supreme Court Civics 101 a Supreme Court out-reach program where the members of the court from all levels could attend public forums to offer their thoughts to the public and answer questions.
"We don't have much of a clue because we never ask and I think we should," Gray said about communicating with the public.
"I think it's a more future-oriented kind of look that I have for the job."