BILLINGS — The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a judgment against a former state lawmaker from Bozeman who was fined $68,000 for having been found to have accepted and failed to report illegal corporate contributions.
The court’s ruling affirmed a Lewis and Clark County jury decision in April 2016 against former Republican Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman.
The civil case was brought against Wittich, then a state senator, by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, who at the time was Jonathan Motl.
After a five-day trial, 10 of 12 jurors found that Wittich violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 state Senate campaign for District 35 by accepting nearly $20,000 in in-kind contributions from the National Right to Work Committee.
District Judge Ray Dayton denied Wittich’s motion for a new trial and trebled the verdict amount. The total judgment was $68,232, which included $9,435 in penalties for violations that had been determined in a prior summary judgment order.
Wittich had filed a motion for a new trial in July 2016, arguing jurors relied on faulty evidence and cost estimates provided by a witness. His motion also argued that the state’s definition of a campaign contribution was unconstitutional.
Justice Beth Baker, writing the opinion, said the high court affirmed the district court’s decisions to deny Wittich’s motions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction, to exclude expert testimony and to have a new trial. The Supreme Court also backed the district court’s decision to treble the verdict in imposing the penalty.
Wittich had appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion by denying his motions to exclude two witnesses from testifying as experts and denying his motion for a new trial and whether the court had acted within its discretion in trebling the verdict amount. He also appealed whether the COPP had satisfied legal procedures for filing a judicial action against him.
Concurring in the opinion were Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justices Laurie McKinnon, Michael Wheat and Jim Rice.