Montana: “Supreme Court Candidate Public Forum Program” killed; effort at public funding for court races but opponents worried about using court fees to pay for it

A plan discussed here to create publicly funded public forums to hear from candidates for Montana’s non-partisan Supreme Court races is dead for the session.

HB 636 would have directed the Secretary of State hold public forums throughout the state and invite all candidates for the high court participate. The funding from the program would have come, in part, from an increase in filing fees in appellate and civil cases. Opponents (audio here starting at 1:50) expressed concern that the increase in fees would be problematic from an access-to-justice perspective and that while the forums should be encouraged, community groups should be taking care of them. They also objected to candidates having their travel expenses to the forums being paid for via the forum.

The bill was heard in the House Judiciary Committee on March 28 and left in the committee. A motion to pull it out of committee and bring it to the floor was rejected by the full House on March 29 41-58.