Election Guide '22

The candidates and issues on Montana's 2022 ballot

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James Brown
2022 candidate for Montana Supreme Court (Seat 2)

James Brown

Public Service Commission chairman
Active candidates in race

Brown, 51, from Dillon, has operated his private practice law firm in Helena since 2012. He is also the current chairman of the Public Service Commission, which he campaigned for in 2020.

Brown served as legal counsel for the Montana Republican Party from 2009 to 2015 and has continued to represent the GOP in recent cases. In that time period he also represented American Tradition Partnership, a conservative political organization.

Brown earned his J.D. from Seattle University in 2004. He was admitted to the State Bar of Montana in 2007.

This biography is based on campaign materials and interviews with Brown.

MTFP coverage

Reporting on this candidate published by the Montana Free Press newsroom.
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Campaign finance

Campaign finance reporting for this race is done through Montana's Commissioner of Political Practices. That data can be accessed through the COPP's Campaign Electronic Reporting System Dashboard.

On the issues

The material shown below was solicted from candidates via a written questionnaire in September and October 2022. Responses were limited to 1,000 characters and edited lightly for punctuation and spelling. Responses have not been exhaustively fact-checked. Send questions to Eric Dietrich at edietrich@montanafreepress.org.
What type of law have you focused on in your career? Please describe your experience in criminal and civil law, including but not limited to constitutional law, American Indian law, dependency and neglect cases and treatment courts.
James Brown:

For the last 15 years, I have served as a private practice attorney. I own and operate my own law firm. I have experience in both civil and criminal law and litigation and have practiced in front of both federal and state courts. My law practice has focused primarily on representing Montana’s farmers, ranchers and other small business owners in matters ranging from water rights, to property boundary disputes, to public roads questions, to highly complex environmental litigation and public lands use matters. I have also represented hard-working Montanans on family law matters to business-related litigation. As such, I bring to the Court a diverse knowledge of the law, as well as experience gained by actually representing clients in courthouses all across Montana. My legal work has also been dedicated to protecting the free speech and association rights of Montanans. In my role at the Montana PSC, I have served as an administrative judge on energy and transportation related cases.

Do you consider Montana’s court system overburdened by cases? If so, why? What are your proposed solutions for improving how Montana's courts function?
James Brown:

As evidenced by the Court’s own records, Montana’s courts are not keeping up in a timely manner with their respective caseloads. Yellowstone County courts have almost 100 cases that have been pending for five years or more. Montana’s Constitution specifically provides in Section 16 of Article II that every citizen is entitled to a speedy remedy and that justice shall be administered without delay. By having cases linger for years, the judiciary is not meeting its constitutional obligation and the problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the Supreme Court. I am dedicated to improving turnaround times for disposition of legal cases so that justice delayed does not become justice denied. Among those reforms that need to occur are: hiring more district court judges; the creation of an intermediate court of appeals; more utilization of specialized courts – such as drug courts, family courts, etc.

According to the most recent data analyzed by the Prison Policy Initiative, Montana’s incarceration rate in prisons, jails, immigration facilities and juvenile facilities is higher than the national average. Native American, Black and Latino people are also disproportionately represented in Montana’s jails and prisons. Do these trends represent a problem in Montana’s judicial system? What, if any, role should the judiciary play in remedying this?
James Brown:

Montana is experiencing a jump in violent and property crime rates above the national average. Montanans are rightly concerned with keeping themselves and their families safe, and ensuring our law enforcement agencies and personnel are adequately supported and funded. Montanans are greatly interested in its judiciary upholding law and order. The fact is that the Legislature establishes what acts constitute a crime and provides funding for state criminal justice agencies. Prosecutors are tasked with charging and prosecuting crimes. Therefore, it should be the legislative process, not judges, that serves as the focal point for changing and/or improving criminal law and its administration. Montana’s judiciary is tasked with adjudicating the guilt of persons charged with crimes and imposing criminal sentences. Montana’s judiciary is not, despite my opponent’s varied legal decisions to the contrary, in the business of making policy or serving as a forum for rewriting criminal processes.

The Montana Constitution includes rights that often need to be balanced against one another in litigation, such as the right to privacy and the right to know. Please describe one such balancing test used by the Montana Supreme Court and explain, in your opinion, the fairness of that balancing test when applied to the law.
James Brown:

Judges are tasked with applying the law as written to the facts of the case. This is a legal maxim Montana’s courts should adhere to more closely. Our Constitution contains one of the strongest, if not the strongest, state constitution transparency clauses as the same is set forth in Article 2, Section 9. The Montana Constitution also contains a very strong right to privacy clause, namely Article 2, Section 10. There have been many instances where these two rights conflict and Montana case law makes clear courts are to apply a balancing test in such instances because neither right is absolute. Montana courts have also recognized that all documents in the hands of public officials are amenable to inspection. As such, based on the clear terms of the Montana Constitution and this established legal precedent, the facts of a particular case and the judicial record should determine the outcome of any matter where these two constitutional rights clash.

Montana’s judiciary and judicial rulings have been under heightened scrutiny in recent years as bills passed by the Legislature come under legal challenge. As a justice, what would you do to help engender trust in and respect for Montana’s judicial system?
James Brown:

Montana Supreme Court’s decisions are appropriately being subject to higher level of scrutiny than federal court or Montana district court decisions. This is because Montana’s high Court has a well-earned reputation from academics and from litigants for issuing decisions that lack clarity, overturn its own established precedent, being anti-business, and attack the constitutional lawmaking authority of the Montana Legislature. Further, the Court has too often issued decisions that directly violate the United States Constitution. The Court can immunize itself from such scrutiny by following the law as written, and by not making law or policy from the bench. My judicial philosophy is one of being a strict constructionist, meaning I view my role in the judicial system as a neutral decision maker. I also strongly believe in the concept of judicial restraint. Application of this judicial philosophy will help engender trust in the Court.

Election results

June 7 nonpartisan primary vote
Count reported by Montana secretary of state as of 7/19/22
Nov. 8 General election vote
Count reported by Montana secretary of state as of 11/14/22




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