HELENA — A district judge ruled Friday that a candidate for the Montana Supreme Court does not meet the qualifications to run for the justice post and ordered Lawrence VanDyke’s name removed from the ballot.
District Judge Mike Menahan of Helena issued an opinion that was expedited to allow either side time to appeal. He ruled that VanDyke had not been admitted to active practice of law for at least five years in Montana as required.
If Menahan’s ruling stands, Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat, who’s been on the court since 2010, will run unopposed in the Nov. 4 election.
Five delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention, which changed state laws, had challenged VanDyke’s eligibility to run for the office. Their lawsuit contended that VanDyke didn’t meet the constitution’s requirement that a candidate for the Supreme Court must be admitted to practice law here for at least five years.
VanDyke was admitted to practice law in October 2005. He went on “inactive” bar status in Montana from March 2007 to November 2012 while he worked out of state. He petitioned the court in November 2012 to regain his active bar status so he could accept a job as state solicitor general for Attorney General Tim Fox, who took office in January 2013.
VanDyke attorney Rob Cameron said inactive members are not considered ineligible to practice law, and the time VanDyke was on inactive status should count toward the five-year constitutional requirement for candidacy.
“I think the people of Montana should have the right to decide who they want on the Montana Supreme Court,” VanDyke told Lee Newspapers of Montana.
Assistant Attorney General Cory Swanson, representing Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, said votes for VanDyke in overseas absentee ballots that have already been sent won’t be counted if VanDyke’s name is removed from the ballot.
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