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Argument For CI-98  

We Americans have a unique relationship to our courts. Judges are seen as public servants, who must rule fairly and be accountable to the people. In Montana , where judges are elected for very long terms, accountability is only meaningful if the people can democratically remove bad and biased judges between elections. Yet, our current recall law is so weak that it protects bad judges and makes recall almost impossible. CI-98 re-establishes judicial accountability with a recall process that is accessible, yet intentionally difficult to abuse.

Everyone deserves a good judge. The vast majority of judges do an admirable job. But what of those few who don’t? Those who may rule with an obvious bias or political agenda? Those who legislate from the bench? Those who put our families and communities in peril by turning violent criminals and pedophiles out on the streets? Those who trample our constitutional rights? How would you feel if you were a victim of such a judge, and knew that in Montana , nothing could be done?  

A fundamental democratic right. In 1976, the people passed an initiative aimed at guaranteeing our right to recall any elected officials, including judges, who abuse their power. But a few months later, it was gutted when the legislature created “grounds” for recall so narrow and so restrictive, that since that time, the people have not been able to recall a single judge, no matter how awful his or her record.

Who judges the judges? CI-98 provides the opportunity to take a measured and serious look at a judge’s performance, and when that performance is truly deplorable, to remove the person from office. Here is how it would work:

  • After the judge is in office at least 60 days, a petition may be circulated, stating the reasons for the recall. These reasons may not be overruled by another judge.
  • Petitioners have 3 months to gather signatures representing at least 10 percent of the total votes cast in a previous statewide election (15% for local races.)
  • If the petition is successful, a special election will be held within 75 days, or within 90 days of another election. If the judge or justice wins the election, any future recall efforts must cover all costs up front.

Why is CI-98 so needed? While judges and supreme court justices are subject to elections every 6 to 8 years, poor judges can create enormous abuse and hardship while serving their terms. That is precisely why, in a free society, constitutions provide for the more immediate remedy of recall, in extreme situations.

Recall of any elected official should never be taken lightly. The very strict requirements of CI-98 ensure that it will not be used as a casual means of political harassment. But it will be a powerful tool for judicial accountability and democratic oversight of a branch of government that for too long has been too removed from the will of the people.

Opponents' Rebuttal

Clearly, if passed, CI-98 can be used to intimidate and harass sitting judges. Just the presence of a law like CI-98 would be a threat to the judge's ability to decide issues impartially.

A single dissatisfied person could file a petition to recall a judge, for any imaginary reason at all. No public official is given the power to correct the petition in any way. Did the judge act in the highest good faith? Tough luck! The petition drive goes on, no matter how good the judge really is.

Then begins the scramble for signatures, sometimes by paid solicitors. CI-98 lowers the number of signatures needed. If enough are obtained, a special election on the recall must follow, or be a part of regular elections. It is the public who pays for these elections. It is the judge who must pay for his defense to the recall.

People of good sense will see the dangers lurking in CI-98 and vote against it. The stability and quality of Montana's judiciary is truly at stake here. Our court system is working well, and does not need this kind of fixing. We respectfully ask you to vote against CI-98.

The PROPONENT argument and rebuttal for this measure were prepared by State Representative Edward B. Butcher, State Representative Diane Rice, and State Representative Michael Lange.

 The OPPONENT argument and rebuttal for this measure were prepared by the Honorable John C. Harrison, former Montana Supreme Court Justice; the Honorable Jean Turnage, former Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice; and the Honorable John C. Sheehy, former Montana Supreme Court Justice.