Motl is out, Mangan takes over Political Practices office

Helena – The tumultuous tenure of Jonathan Motl as Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices came to an end Monday with Jeff Mangan taking over.

Mr. Motl’s time as Montana’s top political cop was marked by allegations of unethical behavior, partisan chicanery, and numerous lawsuits over his conduct.

Mr. Motl was a controversial figure since his name first surfaced as a possible nominee for the position. Opponents often pointed to Mr. Motl’s past activism in liberal causes, heavy financial support of Democrat candidates, and the fact that he had been previously cited for campaign finance violations as reasons why he should not be appointed.

Much as his critics feared, once in office Mr. Motl’s enforcement actions proved to be a mostly one-sided affair – against Republicans. Mr. Motl took the highly unusual step of prosecuting several Republican candidates and groups in district court while taking much less severe actions or completely dismissing complaints filed against Democrats, including a case that involved his own lawyer, John Heenan of Billings.

Mr. Motl’s conduct sparked five lawsuits that were filed against him, including one case in which Mr. Motl refused to rescue himself from an ethics complaint filed against him personally.

Attorney Jim Brown of Helena filed suit in August 2016 after Mr. Motl refused to rescue himself from ruling on an ethics complaint against Mr. Motl. In that case, Mr. Motl refused to recuse himself, and then wrote a decision in the third person finding himself not guilty of any wrongdoing.

In arguing the case, Mr. Brown noted that, “In absolving Motl of any wrongdoing based on Motl’s investigation of Motl, Motl’s decision goes so far as to refuse to file the complaint for public record — a highly unusual step, and one without precedent in the law.”

With his term set to expire in early 2017, a group of Democrats filed a lawsuit trying to keep Mr. Motl in office. The Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Motl could not extend his term in office but that he could stay until his replacement was confirmed by the state Senate.

Governor Steve Bullock appointed former Democrat State Legislator Jeff Mangan of Great Falls to replace Mr. Motl in April. Mr. Mangan was confirmed by the Montana Senate for a six-year term.

Mr. Mangan took the helm on Monday, telling the Associated Press that he has met with Mr. Motl and the staff three times in the past two weeks to review cases and plans to immediately start writing campaign complaint decisions.

By: Big Sky Headlines Staff