Schweitzer Wants Ethics Case Against Him Dismissed

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer has asked that an ethics case against him be dismissed, citing an “inexcusable delay,” but the Montana Republican Party thinks the case should move forward, a news organization reported Thursday.

“Any alleged delay in these proceedings is primarily a result of the governor’s own litigation strategy,” Republican Party attorneys Quentin Rhodes and Robert Erickson of Missoula wrote in a response cited by Lee Newspapers. “He should not be rewarded for his own dilatory tactics.”

Former Commissioner of Political Practices Dennis Unsworth ruled in November 2008 that Schweitzer, a Democrat, violated ethics laws by using state resources to tape a public-service announcement for national agriculture week shortly after he filed to seek a second term.

Unsworth said further evidence should be considered to determine how many violations occurred and what the penalty should be.

Schweitzer’s request for a state judge to overturn the decision was dismissed by District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock in December 2009. The case was dormant for months while the Republican Party hired a new attorney, Lee Newspapers said.

Schweitzer’s attorney, Mike Meloy, argued last month that the case should be dismissed because of the delay or decided on the existing record, without gathering further evidence.

“This matter already has consumed far too much time and resources of the parties and the commissioner,” he said. “It is time for the commissioner to dispose of this proceeding, involving an unremarkable event in 2008 involving a few minutes of Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s time recording a 30- and 60-second radio spot at the request of a Lewistown radio station to promote Montana agriculture.”

The Republican Party argued the commissioner should schedule a hearing on evidence regarding the number of violations and possible penalty.

New Commissioner Jennifer Hensley, who was appointed by Schweitzer on Dec. 24, said she will be talking with her office’s attorney soon with an eye toward making a decision as soon as possible.

She also noted Schweitzer has vowed to take the case to District Court no matter what the decision is.

“The next step is, I hope, to get a swift decision out of this office so that process can begin,” she said.

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