Montana Attorney General Blasts Hiring GOP Consultant’s Wife

Stapleton told MTPR that he did not hire lawyers from the attorney general's office because he considered it more of a political case than a legal one

By Justin Franz

HELENA — Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s hiring of a Republican political consultant’s wife who unsuccessfully defended the office in a lawsuit earlier this year was a needless political decision that cost $60,000, Attorney General Tim Fox said.

The attorney general’s comments, first reported by Montana Public Radio, were in response to fellow Republican Stapleton “impugning the credibility and motives” of the Department of Justice’s attorneys in how they would have handled the lawsuit challenging the Green Party’s ballot certification, Fox spokesman John Barnes told The Associated Press on Friday.

Stapleton told MTPR that he did not hire lawyers from the attorney general’s office because he considered it more of a political case than a legal one.

He said he wanted someone he could trust in the courtroom and was willing to pay more for what he thought was better legal counsel by hiring Billings attorney Emily Jones. She is the wife of political consultant and former state GOP executive director Jake Eaton.

Fox did not appreciate Stapleton questioning the professionalism and expertise of his hard-working, highly skilled staff, the attorney general said in his statement to MTPR, which Barnes provided to the AP.

“The Secretary of State’s criticism is especially mystifying since he is currently using our attorneys for other litigation,” Fox said. “Ultimately, he made a political decision to needlessly spend $60,000 on outside counsel and lost the case.”

Stapleton’s chief of staff, Christi Jacobsen, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. Jones did not immediately return a message left at her office for comment.

Jones defended Stapleton’s office in the lawsuit challenging Stapleton’s certification of the Green Party for the 2018 election. The secretary of state’s office lost the case after a judge disqualified enough questionable voter signatures on the certification petition to keep Green Party candidates off the ballot.

The lawsuit, filed by the Montana Democratic Party and three voters, eliminated the chance that a Green Party candidate would take away votes from U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is in a tight re-election campaign against Republican State Auditor Matt Rosendale.

Jones’ contract with the secretary of state’s office came to light after an AP investigation this week found that Stapleton awarded a $265,000 emergency contract to Eaton’s printing company this month to fix a mistake in the state’s voter information pamphlet.

Stapleton’s director of elections and voter services, Dana Corson, said there was no favoritism in awarding the printing contract. Eaton’s company was the only one that could quickly mail the correction to voters as absentee ballots were being distributed, he said.

Eaton is a political consultant who was executive director of the Montana Republican Party from 2007 to 2008 and chief of staff for former U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg’s unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 2012.

He has known Stapleton since Stapleton’s days in the state Senate in the early 2000s, and has financially supported Stapleton’s campaigns and completed printing jobs for him in the past.

But, he said earlier this week, he does not believe he was awarded the voter information pamphlet addendum contract based on that personal relationship and said his print shop was the only one in Montana that could do the job.

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