Justice Delayed on Lawsuit over Water Compact?

Justice Delayed on Lawsuit over Water Compact?

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Below is a letter-to-editor that I wrote regarding a long-overdue court ruling on the legality of the Montana Legislature’s vote approving the CSKT Water Compact. The State legislature voted on April 11, 2005 by simple majority, instead of a State Constitutional requirement of a two-thirds majority vote. We’ve all been waiting a long time for the decision on whether or not this was a legitimate legislative vote, so I wrote the letter found on the link below to sort of ‘nudge the judge’ so to speak…

“No matter how well grounded in the law, thoughtful or excellent his ruling, the politics of Montana forebodes an appeal to the Montana state Supreme Court of Judge Manley’s ruling. The future economy of Montana, the status of state authority, and livelihood of thousands of landowners must ultimately be resolved. No doubt, Judge Manley would like to be free of such a consequential decision soon as well.” — Elaine Willman, Ronan

Despite occasional warts and wrinkles within the system, I have maintained a lifetime respect for our country’s judiciary. Decisions issued from a courtroom bench can change a life, a community, and sometimes a nation. The mental burden resting upon judges is likely incalculable.

Such must be the case for Lake/Sanders County, MT District Court Judge James Manley. In a news publication of Oct. 26, 2013, Judge Manley remarked that he applied for the judicial appointment “to give back to the community and the profession that have been good to me and my family.”

In the same article, Judge Manley also noted his great respect for retiring Judge C.B. McNeil as “the most efficient, effective and organized judge in the state by far,” noting that “the longest anyone had to wait on a ruling from him (McNeil) was 10 days.”

With regard to a case awaiting Judge Manley’s ruling, a case which challenges the legality of the state Legislature’s April 11, 2015, vote on the proposed Salish and Kootenai water compact, the burden must be heavy, and consequences severe, no matter which way he rules. The case, DV-15-73, was filed in May 2015 with final arguments heard in March 2016.

For the most part, judicial rulings are well grounded in the law, thoughtful and deliberate. Whether from a sense of pure fairness and justice, or simple ego, judges do not like to be appealed or overturned.

Far longer than 10 days, it has now been over 100 days that Montana residents and elected officials await a ruling. One would hope that Judge Manley’s due diligence and ruling will soon free him of the burden of indecision, and allow Montana citizens to move to the next stage of addressing his decision.

No matter how well grounded in the law, thoughtful or excellent his ruling, the politics of Montana forebodes an appeal to the Montana state Supreme Court of Judge Manley’s ruling. The future economy of Montana, the status of state authority, and livelihood of thousands of landowners must ultimately be resolved. No doubt, Judge Manley would like to be free of such a consequential decision soon as well.


Elaine Willman, MPA, is author of Going to Pieces – The Dismantling of the United States of America, and Slumbering Thunder: A Primer for Confronting the Spread of Federal Indian Policy and Tribalism Overwhelming America.

Contact her at toppin@aol.com

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