Wittich's Defense Team

Attorneys Lucinda Luetkemeyer and Quentin Rhoades argued on behalf of state Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, in Anaconda on Monday.

UPDATE, Friday, 12:45 p.m. – The Montana Supreme Court has ordered that Wittich provide a swift briefing on his appeal and told Motl that he will not be allowed to respond.

In an order posted to the court's website on Friday afternoon, Montana Supreme Court Justice Patricia Cotter told the parties that "in light of the scheduled district court trial date of March 28" any response Wittich may wish to file must be filed and served to the court on or before March 17.

The order shortens Wittich's timeframe for briefing the court from 11 days to seven and sets the stage for a speedy response by the court, which would shorten any delay Wittich's appeal might have otherwise caused.

UPDATE, Friday, 11:23 a.m. – Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl filed Friday morning a motion to dismiss Wittich's Supreme Court appeal and requested an expedited briefing schedule.

Motl's attorney, Gene Jarussi, argues that the state Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a similar appeal as premature months ago in a related case in which Wittich was an attorney.

"With the trial scheduled to commence on March 28, 2016, Defendant Wittich filed this frivolous interlocutory appeal in an effort to delay the trial setting," Jarussi said in the motion.

ORIGINAL REPORT: A Bozeman Republican’s appeal to the Montana Supreme Court filed Thursday will likely add months of delay to his trial previously scheduled to begin March 28.

The appeal by Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, comes in reaction to District Court Judge Ray Dayton’s ruling Wednesday that Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl had followed the proper procedures leading to his civil lawsuit against Wittich.

Wittich’s attorney told the Anaconda judge on Monday that Wittich hadn’t been named in the 2010 campaign complaint Motl used as the basis of his investigation into Western Tradition Partnership, a conservative group that spent undisclosed “dark money” attacking Republican candidates it deemed too liberal. Motl contends that Wittich received banned corporate campaign contributions that were not disclosed and that he should be removed from office. Wittich denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the allegations.

“Check out the COPP’s website. It posts all complaints ever received. There’s not one against Art Wittich. See for yourself. There’s no complaint against Art archived on the COPP website. The reason? There’s never been one filed against him,” Quesitn Rhoades, Wittich’s attorney, said in an email Thursday. “Thus the COPP had no authority to prosecute him.”

Rhoades said it is an example of the abuse the Legislature tried to prevent when it set up the law that denies the commissioner authority to initiate an investigation unless a complaint is first filed by a citizen.

Wittich’s attorneys have 40 days to file their legal arguments with the Supreme Court; Motl’s legal team will have 30 days to respond. The court could take weeks to issue a decision afterwards. Motl said Thursday he is confident the trial will still be held this year.

“He’s beating a dead issue. Judge Dayton already rejected that entire argument,” Motl said.

In his investigation, Motl found that WTP was operated in Montana by the same agents of the National Right to Work Committee that were also running a direct mail printing company and a campaign consultancy that Wittich used in his 2010 state Senate campaign.

Wittich was one of nine Republican candidates that Motl said broke Montana’s campaign practices with WTP. Two of the other candidates settled with the commissioner and two others were found guilty of corruption in court proceedings they took no part in.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.


Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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