By Ron VandenBoom
Terry Trieweiler, nonpartisan candidate for chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court, said in a recent interview that it would be difficult for his opponent, Karla Gray, to run the court because she has been the court's leading dissenter.
"Justice Gray has been our leading dissenter for three years now," Trieweiler said.
Trieweiler said that, if the court is going to have to make difficult constitutional decisions, it must have leadership that believes in the court's decisions and is willing and able to explain those decisions to the public.
"I think it would be harder for her to perform that role," he said. "And I think that's going to require someone who's more in the mainstream than Justice Gray is."
Trieweiler called Gray "the leading critic of the court," and referred to her as "a (former) lobbyist for the power company who has little, if any, experience in court." He also said she was the candidate most responsible for limiting public access to the court, while during the campaign advocating more court openness.
"I do think the court should be more open," he said. "That's why for the last eight years I have advocated opening our conferences so that people could observe our deliberations."
Trieweiler said it was the best thing the court could do to better inform the people about how it does its job.
Gray, he said, has opposed the idea the entire time and unless he happens to pick up a couple more votes, it probably won't happen. He said that people should be able to listen to the court and should not have to accept Gray's version or a Trieweiler press release.
"People should be able to listen to us and see how well prepared we are," he said. "They could see whether our discussions are limited to legal issues versus our own personal views."
He also said they could see who works well with others and see who the leaders on the court really are.
"I think that would be preferable to people having to sort out what one says as opposed to the other," he said.
Trieweiler said he had also been accused by Gray of bringing a personal agenda to the court and not leaving his politics at the door.
"That's a popular approach to take," he said. He said that Gray never gives specifics when making the accusation.
The problem Trieweiler said he sees in the accusation is that in the last five years he has voted with the majority on all major decisions of the court.
"So to criticize me, she would also have to criticize what she now says she is in a better position to lead," Trieweiler said. "It is a totally inconsistent position to take."
But the people don't have to take Trieweiler's word for it, he said. "Open up the process so that people can make their own conclusions about who has an agenda and who doesn't."
Trieweiler said that he believes one of the reasons Gray has made such vicious and unfounded attacks against him and his campaign is that she has based her campaign on the results of a $24,000 poll a poll that Trieweiler said some people have told him was, in fact, a "push poll."
A push poll asks the voters what candidate they favor and if the opposing candidate's name is given, the caller will push the voter toward the candidate of choice by offering some bit of dirt on the voter's choice. The practice is considered highly unethical among legitimate pollsters, he said.
"I just want to make clear to people that I don't apply my personal views to the decision making process," Trieweiler said. "I've never labeled myself politically one way or the other."
In answer to Gray's claim that Trieweiler is an advocate for various special interest groups, he said "That's a result of trying to build your campaign off a poll that told you how to characterize your opponent."