HELENA — Twenty-two media groups have asked a District Court to find the Republican House caucus in contempt of court for holding an illegal party caucus on Nov. 13.
The legal action asked District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena to enforce the 1998 decision by former District Judge Thomas Honzel that declared that legislative party caucuses are public bodies and subject to the right-to-know provision of the Montana Constitution.
Caucuses are meetings of the members of one party in one chamber of the Legislature. So there are four caucuses: House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats.
House Republicans gathered for an unannounced caucus in the basement of Jorgenson’s Restaurant and Lounge on the evening of Nov. 13 when reporters for the Great Falls Tribune and the Helena Vigilante, acting on a tip, showed up.
The attorney for the media groups, Peter Michael Meloy of Helena, said apparently no decisions were made in the course of the meeting, so the “remedial provisions” of state law, which require any decisions to be voiced, are not applicable.
“However, this pattern of conducting secret meetings appears to be an ongoing effort to avoid the requirements of this court’s 1998 judgment and will be repeated during the upcoming session unless the court takes some action to assure compliance with the law,” Meloy said. “The only remedy is to find the House Republican caucus in contempt of the court’s 1998 judgment.”
He asked that the judge issue an order directing the House Republican caucus to appear in court and show cause why it should not be held in contempt and order the caucus to give public notice of any future caucuses.