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Panel recommends disbarment for Hamilton attorney

By Michael Howell

 

An adjudicatory panel of the Commission on Practice has recommended to the Montana Supreme Court that Hamilton attorney Robert Myers be disbarred from the practice of law.

 

The Commission actually issued three recommendations to the Court based on three separate counts of professional misconduct each of which was considered at separate hearings all held on the same day, July 20. The Commission followed the recommendations made by Deputy Disciplinary Counsel Jon Moog at the hearings.

 

The Commission said Myers’ conduct, “was outrageous, continuous, and displays a disturbing lack of judgment and disrespect for the judiciary, opposing counsel, opposing parties, and the rule of law as a whole. His actions go far beyond zealous advocacy.”

 

Besides recommending disbarment, the Commission also recommended that Myers be suspended for a period of not less than seven months in one case and suspended for a period of three years in the third case. It recommended that all the disciplinary actions run concurrently and that Myers pay the cost of all the proceedings against him.

 

All three cases primarily concern Myers’ conduct toward, and statements and advertisements made about, District Court Judge Jeffrey Langton. Myers was sanctioned by Langton in a court case and fined $10,000 in the summer of 2015. In that case, Judge Langton found that none of Myers’ factual contentions appeared to have even a minimum quantum of evidentiary support. He found that Myers’ legal contentions were not warranted by existing law and held that the majority of Myers’ contentions were not even supported by argument. He found that Myers had “squandered” his client’s right of appeal by failing to make timely filings, that he failed to adequately review the record in the case, failed to provide even a minimum of evidentiary support for his claims, and did not support his claims with any developed argument or legal authority. Judge Langton also found that Myers used highly inflammatory language to make baseless accusations of conspiracy, fraud, bias, unethical behavior, and illegal acts against numerous people, including himself.

 

Myers meanwhile accused Langton of illegal activity and tried to have him disqualified from the case. He even issued a subpoena to the judge during the trial. Langton squashed the subpoena and referred the matter to the Montana Supreme Court. The Montana Supreme Court upheld Langton’s imposition of sanctions.

 

Although Myers argued in the one case that he should be able to make even false statements about an election candidate because his speech is protected by the First Amendment, the Commission decided otherwise. Quoting case law it notes, “The law is clear. The First Amendment does not protect a false statement that is made ‘with knowledge that it is false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not’.”

 

In the meantime, Judge Langton filed criminal charges against Myers alleging criminal defamation. In turn, Myers filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Missoula and asked Judge Donald Molloy to strike down Montana’s criminal defamation statute as unconstitutional, arguing that Montana’s disciplinary code, which prohibits attorneys from making false statements about judges, forces judicial candidates to forego exercising their fundamental right to criticize their opponents. He also claimed that the State may not restrict statements by and about judicial candidates and lawyers in the context of judicial election. Molloy rejected Myers’ claims and granted summary judgment in favor of the state on September 15, 2017.

 

In its own conclusions of law, the Commission claims that Myers violated several rules governing professional conduct and the judiciary by “making or causing to be made statements that he knew to be false, or were made or caused to be made with reckless disregard or the truth, concerning the integrity of a judge,” and “by engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” It concludes that Myers violated several other rules concerning judicial candidates that prohibit candidates from knowingly, or with reckless disregard for the truth, making any false statement. The claim is also made that Myers violated the rules when he failed to take reasonable measures to ensure that false statements were not made by others on his behalf. They claim he violated another canon that judicial candidates must be “scrupulously fair and accurate” in all statements made by him and his campaign.

 

The Montana Supreme Court will make the final decision about any disciplinary action.

 

Myers is currently representing former Ravalli County treasurer Valerie Stamey in a federal lawsuit filed against the Bitterroot Star and its publishers Victoria and Michael Howell as well as a more recent case against current and former county commissioners Greg Chilcott, JR Iman, Jeff Burrows and Suzy Foss, former sheriff and now county commissioner Chris Hoffman, county attorney Bill Fulbright, several other county employees from the finance and treasury departments and Michael Howell, publisher of the Bitterroot Star.

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