By Ron VandenBoom
Terry Trieweiler, candidate for Chief Justice of the Montana Supreme Court, says he is striving to bring consistency to the court.
"One of the things the court did in the past was decide a case inconsistently with the past without reversing it," Trieweiler said in a campaign swing through Havre on Saturday.
Trieweiler explained that when this happens the court ends up with two different cases standing for opposite conclusions or two different parallel precedents for a different results.
He said it has not been uncommon to have one party arguing one case as precedent before the court and another party arguing the same case and citing another conclusion as precedent. Each precedent leading to different conclusions.
"In resolving the case one way or the other, one precedent or the other had to be reversed in order to get any predictability to the law at some point in the future," Trieweiler said.
The current Supreme Court has been plagued by accusations that it has reversed too many decisions in recent years. This, according to Trieweiler, is due largely to the fact that the court has done a better job of housekeeping than previous courts.
"In terms of making sure there is only one precedent out there for a particular rule of law," he said.
Some of the court's decisions have also concerned high profile cases like CI 75, the constitutional initiative that was authored by Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Natelson. The initiative would have required general voter approval of any increase in fees or taxes at the local, county, or state level. The initiative was approved by voters in 1996 and struck down by the court shortly after it passed.
"I think the foundation of the criticism is from people who had an interest in a different result," Trieweiler said. "Particularly Rob Natelson who drafted CI-75."
Trieweiler said if you draft an unconstitutional initiative and you're a law professor, it's a lot easier to blame the messenger, then it is to accept responsibility for incorrectly drafting it yourself.
Trieweiler also said that, "the better job the court does, the more criticism it's going to get from interest groups who don't think their interests are being served."
Explaining the reasons behind the courts decisions is one of the things Trieweiler believes makes him the best candidate for the job of Chief Justice.
"I think it's important that we elect a chief justice that's going to defend the court, explain the court's decisions and meet with the public and open up a whole dialog," he said.
His background too reflects qualification for this kind of openness, he said.
"I think the most important qualification for any justice and particularly the chief justice, is the ability to understand how the court's decisions affect ordinary people," he said.
He added that before he joined the court he represented consumers, small businessmen and women, employees, retired people, the people who have the most difficult time accessing the justice system.
"I think if you haven't done that it's hard to understand how the court's decisions affect those people," he said.
Trieweiler said public confidence in the court depends on having a spokesperson on the court that believes in the work the court is doing.
"One who believes in openness and is willing to meet with the public, talk to the public explain our decisions and defend our decisions when it's necessary to do so," he said.