Missoulian: Justice Not Done in Jore Case

The following is an EXCELLENT editorial published in The Missoulian regarding the Rick Jore situation.

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No one should lose his property because he lost an election. Not in Montana. Not in America.

The results of last year’s House District 12 election are finally complete. Justice lost.

Acting on a court order, the Lake County sheriff on Aug. 31 confiscated the $543.60 from Rick Jore’s checking accounts at Community Bank in Ronan. The bank took the remaining $25 in his account as its fee for the transaction. The rest goes to the Meloy-Trieweiler law firm in Helena, the firm that represented the Democratic candidate who won the Nov. 2 election with an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The worst of Jore’s punishment is yet to come. An Aug. 25 order from state District Court Judge Kim Christopher of Polson directs Sheriff Bill Barron to collect from Jore a total of $15,663.56 - plus 10 percent interest dating to June 16. Finding but a fraction of that amount in Jore’s bank accounts, the sheriff now is supposed to seize $15,119.96 worth of Jore’s personal property, moving on to his house or land after that if necessary. For his trouble, the sheriff will collect a final $60 as his fee for taking Jore’s money and property.

What did Jore do to earn such a penalty?

Nothing. He broke no law. He violated nobody’s rights. He neglected no duty. All he did was run for public office, for a seat in the Montana House of Representatives.

Jore ran as the Constitution Party candidate in a three-way race against Republican Jack Cross and Democrat Jeanne Windham. Lake County election officials initially declared the election a tie between Jore and Windham, with Cross trailing a distant third. However a handful of ballots counted for Jore were challenged by Windham and the Democrats. And for good reason: Several ballots marked for Jore also had marks adjacent to Cross’ name. County election judges somehow divined the voters’ intention in those cases to be to vote for Jore. With the election ending in an apparent tie, the governor got to appoint the winner. She picked Jore. A voter and Democratic proxy named Anita Big Spring appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The contested ballots took on a life of their own because the outcome of the House District 12 race determined control of the House of Representatives. With Jore (a onetime Republican) belonging to the Constitution Party, Republicans claimed a one-seat advantage over Democrats.

You could argue that local election officials had the discretion to decipher the confusing ballots. That’s what they said. And the local district judge agreed when the case came to court. But the Supreme Court decided otherwise. Applying some of the same ballot-counting standards the U.S. Supreme Court used in deciding the outcome of the 2000 race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, the state’s highest court said the confusing ballots had to be discarded.

After the initial ruling in District Court, the judge ruled Big Spring’s side had to pay Jore’s legal fees. When the Supreme Court reversed the outcome, it also reversed the awarding of fees, ordering Jore to pay Big Spring’s fees.

Turnabout’s fair play, right? Not really. Big Spring sued Jore on Windham’s behalf. Jore never sued anyone. He didn’t mis-mark any ballots. He didn’t count the ballots. He had absolutely no control over the vote-counting. He merely responded to a lawsuit challenging the election of which he’d been declared the winner. Of course, he did retain an attorney to respond, one recommended by the Republican Party, which offered to pay or help pay the costs - somehow that part later became confused. Anyway, he, his supporters and the GOP paid his lawyers’ fees, although he initially had to pawn his tractor to come up with a retainer for his lawyer.

Jore declined Republican suggestions that he counter-challenge some of the ballots that were counted for Windham. A principled constitutionalist, Jore doesn’t believe the courts should decide elections. He made clear from Day 1, however, that he would abide by whatever election outcome the system produced.

But he couldn’t abide the judgment ordering him to pay fees to the attorney who filed the suit to overturn his short-lived election victory. As he put it to us, “I will not pay it voluntarily because I cannot in good conscience give in to such blatant injustice.” Nor, he adds, does he think it’s right to ask his friends, supporters and political allies to donate money to pay an unjust judgment.

Windham, Big Spring and the Democrats were the ones who took this election to court, but they shouldn’t be penalized for doing so any more than Jore. Citizens and candidates shouldn’t have to shoulder ruinous legal bills to ensure ballots are counted correctly and legally. It was the Lake County Clerk and Recorder’s office, responsible for overseeing local elections, that made the ballot-counting errors. Unfortunately, state law says the defendant in any election challenge must be a candidate. That takes Lake County off the hook. County officials, shamefully, have kept their heads low since the Supreme Court decision.

In the end, injustice prevails. Jore is powerless to stop agents of the state from seizing his money and property to settle the debt.

On the to-do list for the next Legislature should be reforms that require the county that makes election errors - not the losing candidate - pay the legal fees in election challenges. The current law clearly never anticipated what happened in House District 12. Future election reforms won’t help Jore now, though.

“Some in the political arena have suggested I pay the bill and utilize public sympathy as political capital for the next election,” Jore says. “I am not looking for sympathy. I am looking for justice. I don’t think that is too much to expect from our courts.”

If he’s been wrong anywhere in this whole ugly process, it’s on that last point.
The Source

3 Responses to “Missoulian: Justice Not Done in Jore Case”

  1. mmachine Says:

    You accidentally italisized the entire front page.

  2. es Says:

    Lake County, Montana bites ass.

  3. Vincent Darrah Says:

    http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2005/09/13/news/mtregional/news07.txt