The Montana Attorney General on Wednesday issued a letter defending his attorneys after the state Supreme Court's characterization of language used by his office during the escalating battle with the judiciary.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, said in the letter his lieutenant Kris Hansen and general counsel Derek Oestreicher have delivered "strong statements from the Legislature" while representing Republican lawmakers in their defense of legislative subpoenas now being challenged as unconstitutional in the Supreme Court and in state District Court.
Indeed, statements from the Attorney General's Office since the saga began have alleged a "pattern of corruption" in the courts and amounted the Supreme Court justices to bank robbers.
Knudsen's letter follows a unanimous opinion by the Supreme Court a week earlier in which the justices denied a request by the Attorney General's Office to disqualify themselves from a case challenging the Legislature's authority to subpoena records from the judicial branch. Justice Laurie McKinnon wrote in the opinion that lawmakers had "manufactured" a conflict in an effort to throw the justices off the case.
District Court Judge Mike McMahon, too, wrote in an order on Tuesday he would have to be "blind" to not see that the flurry of subpoenas for the justice's records is not for valid legislative purposes but for political interests, adding messaging from the AG's attorneys have been "caustic."
Knudsen wrote in his letter Wednesday that he has received judges' references to his attorneys' actions as "thinly veiled threats and attacks on the professional integrity of attorneys in my office."
The line in the Supreme Court opinion Knudsen took issue with was a mention of Hansen's public statement about lawmakers choosing to defy a Supreme Court order halting a temporarily halting a subpoena for judicial emails.
He wrote lawyers have an obligation to report judicial misconduct and to safeguard the integrity of the legal system.
"That is what Lieutenant General Hansen and Mr. Oestreicher have done and will continue to do," Knudsen wrote. "They must zealously represent their client with integrity and honesty.
"All this to say, while this dispute is extraordinary and troubling, please refrain from threatening or maligning the integrity of my attorneys who are assiduously living up to their ethical obligations under unusual circumstances," he continued, adding that the justices are invited to deliver any further frustrations to him directly.