HELENA — A district judge on Friday ordered the name of Supreme Court justice candidate Lawrence VanDyke removed from the November ballot because he’s ineligible to run.
District Judge Mike Menahan of Helena determined that VanDyke will not have met the state constitutional requirement to have been admitted to the practice of law in Montana for five years prior to the November election.
“Prior to the date of the general election, Nov. 4, 2014, VanDyke will have been an active member of the State Bar (of Montana) from Oct. 17, 2005, to March 6, 2007, and from Jan. 8, 2013, to Nov. 4, 2014, a period of approximately three years and three months collectively,” Menahan said.
VanDyke was on inactive status with the Montana Bar from March 6, 2007, while he worked out of state, until the state Supreme Court returned him to active status on Jan. 8, 2014.
VanDyke, a Harvard Law School graduate who had practiced law in the Washington, D.C., area and Texas, returned to Montana to become state solicitor general for Attorney General Tim Fox, who took office in January.
“When he elected to assume inactive status, VanDyke could not practice law or represent himself as authorized or qualified to practice law,” Menahan said. “Thus, he has not been admitted to the practice of law for at least five years prior to the 2014 election.”
Menahan ordered Secretary of State Linda McCulloch to notify election administrators that VanDyke’s name is not to appear on the 2014 general election ballot.
VanDyke had filed to run against Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat. If Menahan’s ruling stands, Wheat will run unopposed this year.
VanDyke said he will appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.
“This case has been brought by Mike Wheat campaign donors to eliminate the competition by lawsuit,” VanDyke said. “We will appeal to the Supreme Court and fully expect Justice Wheat and Chief Justice (Mike) McGrath to recuse themselves since they are both prominent donors to his re-election campaign.
Five delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention went to court on March 21, challenging VanDyke’s eligibility to run for Supreme Court justice. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Mike Meloy of Helena and Gene Jarussi of Billings, contended that VanDyke was ineligible to run under the constitutional requirement.
On April 1, VanDyke’s attorneys, Rob Cameron and Nathan Bilyeu of Helena, asked the Montana Supreme Court to take supervisory control of the case. They cited the need for a timely ruling because of the April 18 deadline for officials to mail primary election ballots to overseas and military absentee voters.
VanDyke’s petition said that although he was on inactive status with the state Bar of Montana for the period, he remained a due-paying member of the State Bar of Montana in good standing from October 2005 until the present. The Supreme Court granted VanDyke’s petition and directed Menahan to issue a decision by Wednesday to allow for an expedited appeal.
In his decision, Menahan said, “There is no question that VanDyke was a member and will be a member of the State Bar from the time of his admission in October 2005 to Nov. 4, 2014 — a period of more than nine years. During that time, however, VanDyke will have only been admitted to the practice of law as an active member of the State Bar for a period of slightly more than three years.”
Constitutional Convention delegates filing the challenge were Louise Cross, Wade Dahood, Jean Bowman, Michael McKeon and Arlyne Reichert.