8 Montana judges have faced misconduct complaints since 1990

8 Montana judges have faced misconduct complaints since 1990

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Yellowstone County District Court Judge Ashley Harada is the eighth judge in Montana to face a formal misconduct complaint since 1990, which is as far back as the commission’s records date in full.

Of those, four ended their judicial service afterward, either by choice, removal or losing re-election. Three others continued serving.

Those eight cases include:

1990 – H.R. Obert, Richland County District Court Judge

Obert was accused of using his position as district court judge to demand that a local justice of the peace withdraw his filing for re-election, and to demand a probation officer resign, saying the officer could no longer serve in Obert’s courtroom. The Judicial Standards Commission recommended removal. The Supreme Court found there was no need to remove Obert because he did not file for re-election and his term expired within a week of the court’s order.

2001 – Michael Smartt, Cascade County Justice of the Peace

Smartt was accused of accessing pornographic websites at work and while in Sidney for judicial training entering a home without permission and sexually assaulting the man inside. Smartt had spent time with the man earlier that night, drinking and smoking marijuana. The Judicial Standards Commission was split on its recommendation for discipline, with the majority seeking removal. Instead, the Supreme Court suspended him with pay while the complaint was reviewed, and then suspended him without pay for the remainder of his term, roughly two months. Smartt lost a primary bid for re-election while the complaint was still under review.

2005 – Jeffrey Langton, Ravalli County District Court Judge

Langton was arrested for drunken driving with a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit. After pleading guilty to the resulting DUI charge, he was ordered not to consume alcohol for a year, but was later found by police passed out near his hotel room in Missoula. Langton came to an agreement with the commission to complete treatment for alcohol abuse, abstain from alcohol, complete aftercare and appear before the Supreme Court for a public reprimand, which he did.

2008 – Gary Hicks, Lincoln County Justice of the Peace

Hicks was initially accused of making overt sexual advances toward six women, but the commission then filed an amended complaint adding three more women accusing him of similar conduct. That included telling one woman he would “work with” her on the criminal charges she was facing if she would have sex with him, and showing up at the home of another woman to make sexual advances. The commission recommended removing Hicks from office, which the Supreme Court did.

2009 – Leroy Not Afraid, Big Horn County Justice of the Peace

The commission accused Not Afraid of breaking a provision of the state Constitution by running for chairman of the Crow Tribe while serving as a justice of the peace. The commission recommended Not Afraid be publicly reprimanded and made to pay for the cost of the proceedings against him. Instead, the Supreme Court ordered the complaint dismissed, saying the tribal chairman position was considered an entity of another sovereign body and not a public office of Montana.

2010 – Gayle Stahl, Phillips County Justice of the Peace

Stahl was charged with a DUI after earlier reports to the commission that she showed up at the office drunk. The commission admonished Stahl after the first report, saying it would recommend removal if it learned of any more instances of alcohol abuse. Stahl resigned, and the commission dropped its formal complaint against her.

2014 – Todd Baugh, Yellowstone County District Court Judge

Baugh said a teen girl was “probably as much in control of the situation as” the high school teacher who admitted raping her, and was, “though troubled, older than her chronological age.” The commission recommended public censure and the Supreme Court did so, in addition to a 31-day suspension without pay.

2020 – Ashley Harada, Yellowstone County District Court Judge

Harada has admitted six counts of misconduct, including making misstatements under oath while serving as a judge, making false or misleading statements about her qualifications while campaigning and making false or misleading statements about a University of Montana Law School applicant in order to preclude that applicant’s admission, due to a personal grievance. Harada has agreed to a public censure and the Judicial Standards Commission has signed off on that recommendation, her attorney said.

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