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From the Commissioner…


April 7, 2016

Dear Fellow Montanan: 

        The COPP v. Wittich jury trial is over. The jury reached its decision at about 7:00 PM Friday, April 1. The jury verdict was consistent with what we at the COPP have been saying for months. Art Wittich, despite his denials, was found by the jury to have committed three major campaign practice violations, including acceptance of $19,599 in illegal corporate contributions from a group of corporations working together with the National Right to Work Committee. 

        The jury phase of the proceeding will now be followed by a penalty hearing at which time the Court (the Honorable Judge Dayton) will consider imposing a range of penalties on Mr. Wittich. Until then, Mr. Wittich is identified as the first Montana public official in 75 years to be adjudicated by a Montana jury of campaign practice violations. I will write later on the significance of these violations as measured by a breach of the public trust, following the imposition of penalty on Mr. Wittich by the Court.

        Right now I am tasked to explain how a tiny state agency managed to win a jury trial against a relentless opponent. I respond that we won by persistence, as to even get to trial we had to first work our way through (and win) thirty motions, counterclaims, and appeals that Mr. Wittich's legal team filed. In the end the last minute appeal to the Montana Supreme Court was rejected 10 days before the date set for trial.

        I also respond that we won by teamwork with literally everyone in our office working on the case at some point. In particular, Jaime MacNaughton worked the case, as did I. But, most of all we won because of the dedicated effort of Montana attorneys Gene Jarussi and John Heenan. Jarussi and Heenan  were appointed special attorney generals for the State of Montana and served the Commissioner pro bono - without pay. Their dedication allowed our agency to devote all of its litigation funds (around $40,000) to the costs of trial. Jarussi served as the lead lawyer and as the case investigator. Heenan was there to handle (and he did so with grace and competence) whatever Jarussi assigned him.

        Jarussi the investigator traveled to Seattle, Virginia, Denver, Sioux Falls, Big Timber, Bozeman and North Dakota, tracking down former National Right to Work staffers and the documents retained in their computers. Jarussi the lawyer winnowed over 70,000 pages of documents into the final set of documents presented as exhibits to the jury. Jarussi the Special Attorney General worked with the former National Right to Work staffers, bringing them into the courtroom in Helena where they identified documents and gave testimony to the jury. Jarussi the court room lawyer was polite, focused, prepared and dedicated.

        In the end all of our combined efforts were assessed by the 12 members of the Helena jury. They were a varied crew in age, sex and occupation. But, to a person, they listened intently during trial. The verdict was a 10 to 2 vote delivered with authority as each juror stated his or her position on 5 separate jury items.

        And, so, the real answer to the question is that the COPP did not win anything by itself. Its people were, of course, part of the march of community leading to the  indictment of illegal corporate funding of Mr. Wittich's 2010 SD 35 Republican Primary election. But it was a community win brought about by able and principled attorneys, forthright Montana witnesses, courageous whistleblowers and a solid, true, Montana jury.


Jonathan Motl

Commissioner of Political Practices



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