The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Russell Fagg
Ask The Judge 

Judging Political Etiquette


September 6, 2017

I have been asked “How can a sitting judge set up an exploratory committee to consider running for the U.S. Senate?” I think the question is asked because, to my knowledge, it has never been done before in Montana. When I started considering a new chapter in my life, which will include starting my own law firm, my lifelong interest in our country rose to the surface as well. I had three interests in mind.

First, I wanted to finish this judge job well. After 22 ½ years of a job I feel very blessed to have had, I want to leave my court in good shape for my successor. I want to work with him or her in the transition and let them know how I run trials, set the calendar, and make decisions.

Second, I wanted to follow the Canons of Judicial Conduct (Canons) to the letter. Doing the right thing is of upmost importance to me, and following the Canons was paramount in this decision

Third, I wanted to follow the Federal Election Commission (FEC) standards to the letter.

After thoroughly looking into this issue, it became apparent I needed to announce my resignation four months in advance to get a new judge in place before I left, I needed to set up an exploratory committee to even consider a U.S. Senate bid, and I needed to be careful not to become a candidate during this exploratory phase. I talked to other attorney’s and a FEC representative to confirm the proper steps.

Although it was unusual for them to act without a complaint being filed, I am thankful the Judicial Standards Commission asked distinguished Billing’s attorney Geoff Keller to do an independent investigation into this matter. Geoff concluded this step is proper and Commission chair Judge Mike Menehan concluded: “The Commission has determined there is no ethical or judicial misconduct in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Accordingly there is no basis on which the commission should take further action and you are notified our investigation is concluded.”

I am pleased to see this issue put to rest. I know the Commission takes its obligation to protect the integrity of the bench seriously. I am in complete agreement with the Commission’s conclusion.

As I wind up my time on the bench, I will make sure all my cases are current. I was disappointed the ball was dropped somewhere in Helena, as my resignation letter was not passed along to the Judicial Nomination Commission for almost five weeks after I submitted it. This will delay the process those five weeks, which may cause my position to be vacant for a time. As I said, this is disappointing, but we will do the best we can to make the transition smooth.

A corollary question I have been asked is “Why the heck would anyone want to consider running for the Senate, considering all the gunk that goes with running?” Good question. My answer is simple. I love this country. I am extremely frustrated with the direction our country is going. I think we can do better.

We need to get back to our bedrock principles of individual responsibility, limited government, balanced budgets, rule of law, property rights, quality education, and market capitalism. Finally, we need to work together on both sides of the aisle to move our great country forward. I will keep these ideas in mind as I contemplate my next chapter.

Judge Russell Fagg has been a State District Court Judge for 22 ½ years. He served two terms in the Montana legislature, and is past president of the Montana Judges Association.


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