Stories about Montana

Mayoral recall effort underway in Montana

An effort in Stevensville, Montana, to recall Mayor Brandon Dewey was initiated on March 30. Petitions were approved for circulation on April 7, giving recall organizers until July 6 to submit 251 valid signatures.

The recall effort is organized by resident Leanna Rodabaugh in response to Dewey signing a $79,800 contract with First Call Computer Solutions on behalf of the town. Petitions accuse Dewey of violating his oath of office because contracts of that size would normally require approval from the town council. Rodabaugh said that the way the contract was signed bypassed the competitive bid and contract award process.

Dewey responded to the recall effort and said, “If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”

In a town council meeting after the contract was signed, Stevensville Town Attorney Scott Owens stated that Dewey did nothing illegal because, while an agreement had been signed by the mayor for an amount of money that usually would require council approval, the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally. Owens said that Dewey’s actions were close to illegality but did not cross the line.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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SCOTUS issues opinions in three cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions in three cases on April 20 during its October 2019 term.

1. Ramos v. Louisiana originated from the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and was argued on October 7, 2019. It concerned the right to a unanimous verdict in a jury trial.

  • The issue: “Whether the Fourteenth Amendment fully incorporates the Sixth Amendment guarantee of a unanimous verdict?”
  • The outcome: The court reversed the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in a 6-3 ruling, holding “if the Sixth Amendment’s right to a jury trial requires a unanimous verdict to support a conviction in federal court, it requires no less in state court.” In its ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled a 1972 SCOTUS case, Apodaca v. Oregon.

2. Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian originated from the Montana Supreme Court and was argued on December 3, 2019. It concerned the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) of 1980.

  • The issues:
    • “Whether a common-law claim for restoration seeking cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies is a “challenge” to EPA’s cleanup jurisdictionally barred by § 113 of CERCLA.
    • Whether a landowner at a Superfund site is a “potentially responsible party” that must seek EPA’s approval under CERCLA § 122(e)(6) before engaging in remedial action, even if EPA has never ordered the landowner to pay for a cleanup.
    • Whether CERCLA preempts state common-law claims for restoration that seek cleanup remedies that conflict with EPA-ordered remedies.”
  • The outcome: The court affirmed in part and vacated in part the Montana Supreme Court’s decision and remanded the case. In a 7-2 ruling, the court held the Montana Supreme Court was wrong to rule that “the landowners were not potentially responsible parties under the Act and thus did not need EPA approval to take remedial action.”

3. Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP originated in the Federal Circuit and was argued before the court on December 9, 2019. It concerned judicial review of agency decisions.

  • The issue: “Whether 35 U.S.C. § 314(d) permits appeal of the [Patent Trial and Appeal Board]’s decision to institute an inter partes review upon finding that § 315(b)’s time bar did not apply.”
  • The outcome: The court vacated and remanded the Federal Circuit’s decision in a 7-2 ruling. The court held that the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) prevents courts from reviewing certain agency processes related to patents. It held that courts may not review the interpretation of a law governing time limits for certain patent reviews made by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office.

Montana announces plans to lift stay-at-home order

Gov. Steve Bullock (D) announced that the state’s stay-at-home order would be lifted effective April 26. Bullock first issued a stay-at-home order on March 26 (effective date March 28) and extended it to April 24 on April 7. Schools in the state had been closed to in-person instruction since March 16.

Bullock said that places of worship could open on April 26 as long as physical distancing was practiced. Retail stores will be allowed to open with physical distancing practices on April 27, and bars and restaurants will re-open with limited capacity beginning May 4. Bullock also said he would rescind the statewide school closure order on May 7, but individual districts would be allowed to decide whether to reopen for in-person instruction.

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