Candidates for Montana’s contested seat in the state Supreme Court met and debated in Seeley Lake Monday night during a candidate forum.
The race between Kristen Juras and Dirk Sandefur is the only nonpartisan contest appearing on this year’s ballot. And whoever is elected will serve eight years as one of seven justices in Montana’s highest court.
Kristen Juras told a crowd of two dozen at the Seeley Lake Community Hall that as a longtime attorney she provides additional perspective that is currently lacking in the court.
“What we don’t have on the court is somebody with a strong background representing farmers and ranchers, small business owners, nonprofits in their daily legal needs.”
Dirk Sandefur challenged Juras’ experience and said his own time as a state District Court judge proves he has the qualifications for the job.
“I’m known around the state in legal circles as a highly competent state district judge who is always prepared and gives everybody a fair shot, win lose or draw. They feel like they’ve been treated fairly. That is what I’ll do on the Montana Supreme Court.”
As several community members challenged whether the justice race is truly nonpartisan, as a race without political agendas, both candidates said they have the ability to make unbiased decisions from the bench.
The forum in Seeley Lake was open to candidates in other the statewide races as well, but the event was poorly attended by both candidates and members of the public. About half the candidates invited attended.
The event organizer said he was disappointed by the turnout and said trying to get candidates together in the same place is like herding cats. He was also competing with broadcasts of the Montana gubernatorial debate and Monday night football, as well as a community BBQ going on on the other side of town.
A second Seeley Lake candidate forum is scheduled in for September 29.
Organizer Klause von Stutterheim says all but one of the candidates invited to that forum have accepted. He’s hoping it will have better public attendance as well.