A Cascade County District Court judge and Montana Supreme Court justice candidate said partisan politics poses the biggest threat to the state’s highest court.
Judge Dirk Sandefur made the comments during a campaign visit to Kalispell on Feb. 25. Sandefur has been a Cascade County judge for 14 years and is facing off against Kristen Gustafson Juras, a Missoula lawyer and professor at the University of Montana School of Law.
Both candidates are vying to replace Justice Pat Cotter who plans to retire this coming year at the end of her eight-year term.
“The Montana Supreme Court is important to this state and I want to help maintain its integrity as a place where all Montanans can receive a fair and impartial ruling based on the facts of the case and the law,” Sandefur said.
Sandefur, 53, is a Great Falls native and was first involved in the legal system when he became a police officer in Havre. After three years in Havre he attended the University of Montana School of Law and worked as a public defender and then deputy Cascade County attorney. He ran for district court judge in 2002 and has been re-elected twice. In the past he has also served as a substitute justice on the Montana Supreme Court.
The judge said that his experience as an officer, defense attorney, prosecutor and judge gives him a unique prospective.
“I’m known as a straight shooter who is a fair and impartial judge,” he said.
Sandefur said his biggest concern for the Montana Supreme Court is outside money influencing the bench. According to a 2015 report, 75 percent of the $1.5 million spent during the 2014 court election came from out of state interests. In that race, incumbent Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat beat challenger Lawrence VanDyke. Sandefur said the state’s highest court is no place to push political agendas.
“This is the highest court in Montana and the decisions made on that bench don’t only impact the parties in a specific case but they shape the law for all other Montanans going forward,” he said.
Sandefur said he is actively courting support from both Democrats and Republicans.
On Feb. 25, Sandefur attended a fundraiser at a law office in Kalispell and said he plans on returning to Northwest Montana as the election nears.