Illegal coordination alleged in lawmaker’s corruption trial
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A former staffer for an anti-union nonprofit says state Rep. Art Wittich illegally coordinated with her group during his 2010 campaign.
The Helena Independent Record reports Sarah Arnold, who worked for National Right to Work, testified Tuesday that the Republican lawmaker had to have known about the value of handwritten letters, staff time, voter data and other campaign services she and the group provided him.
Jon Motl, commission of political practices, says Wittich underpaid for but still received services in exchange for his loyalty to the group.
Wittich has denied taking unreported contributions and accused Motl of engaging in a political “witch hunt.”
The outcome of Wittich’s trial could influence a federal lawsuit challenging Montana’s campaign contribution limits. Attorneys for the state must prove that the contribution caps are preventing actual corruption or its appearance.
Tribe makes deal to drop lawsuit against lending partner
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana’s Chippewa Cree Tribe has settled a lawsuit against its former partners in an online lending company.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris dismissed the lawsuit Tuesday after he agreed to enforce the settlement through September 2017.
The terms of the settlement were not released.
The tribe had accused four men who ran a Nevada-based company called Encore Services of siphoning millions of dollars from the tribe and its lending company, Plain Green.
Encore was a partner in the tribe’s first lending company, which failed. A group of tribal officials made a deal with Encore unknown to the rest of the tribe that allowed Encore to take 15 percent of Plain Green’s revenues.
The lawsuit says Encore gave those tribal officials a third of the money it took.
The tribe had sought $13.1 million from Encore.
NorthWestern ordered to refund Montana customers $8.2M
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana regulators have ordered NorthWestern Energy to refund customers $8.24 million that the state’s largest power company charged when it had to buy electricity on the open market following a 2013 outage of the Colstrip coal plant.
On a 3-2 vote Tuesday morning, the Montana Public Service Commission said NorthWestern failed to take “prudent actions” to protect customers against the financial exposure from such a massive outage.
The majority of commissioners said the South Dakota-based utility should have taken out insurance or taken legal action against the plant operator to recover some of the costs incurred because of the outage.
The plant was out of commission for about six months after equipment malfunctioned during maintenance work.
The commission’s order will likely be issued in May.
Third candidate enters state Supreme Court race
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A third person has entered the race to replace retiring Montana Supreme Court Justice Patricia Cotter.
Great Falls attorney Eric Mills filed to run earlier this month, saying a family medical issue prevented him from filing earlier.
The 35-year-old Mills will be up against University of Montana law professor Kristen Juras and Cascade County District Judge Dirk Sandefur, who have been campaigning for months for the open seat.
Juras was one of Mills’ teachers at the university and Mills has practiced in Sandefur’s courtroom.
He tells the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that he believes the state’s high court needs to take a closer look at family law cases.
The top two vote-getting candidates in the June 7 primary election will advance to November’s ballot.
Man faces new charges in death of Great Falls woman
GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) — A man is now facing homicide charges in the death of a Great Falls woman after autopsy results confirmed she died of blunt force trauma and compression of the neck.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that Roy Edward Scott had initially been charged with criminal endangerment in the Saturday death of Stephanie Wells and had posted $10,000 bail while the autopsy results were pending.
He has been arrested on the new charge of deliberate homicide and is expected to make a court appearance Wednesday.
Investigators say Scott told them he and Wells had gotten into a fight and that he restrained her on the floor, and she stopped breathing. He and his teenage son performed CPR on Wells until help arrived.
A phone number for Scott has been disconnected.
Groups push Montana agencies to comply with voter laws
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Vehicle Division has begun using new forms to apply for a driver’s license to better comply with the national Motor Voter law.
Now, anyone eligible to vote can register by using the same form to apply for a license — without filling out a separate document.
The new forms were rolled out this month amid pressure from Project Vote and other advocacy groups. Advocates say making it easier to register to vote could boost voter rolls, especially among the poor and young.
About 637,000 Montanans are currently registered to vote.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which runs the state’s food stamp program, is also working to address issues raised by the groups.
State officials are scheduled to meet with voter-rights groups on Wednesday.
Snowstorm for parts of Montana
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A winter storm warning is in effect for parts of southern Montana, including the Red Lodge and Livingston areas.
Five to 10 inches of snow is possible with up to 2 feet in the surrounding mountains.
Travel along the Interstate 90 corridor between Billings and Livingston could be impacted.
Billings, Helena and Butte are under a winter weather advisory and are expecting up to several inches of snow.