HELENA — A lawsuit by five delegates to Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention seeks to remove state Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke as a state Supreme Court candidate.
VanDyke does not have the five years of active status with the State Bar of Montana required for eligibility as a judge or state Supreme Court justice, said plaintiffs' attorney Gene Jarussi of Billings.
The Montana Constitution says a candidate is eligible if he has lived in the state for two years and was admitted to practice law in Montana at least five years prior to the election or appointment.
VanDyke said that he meets those qualifications because he has been a member of the state bar since 2005.
"The purpose of this provision is to make sure that people have the requisite experience to run for the office. I have more appellate and constitutional experience than most of the attorneys in Montana," he said.
VanDyke is challenging Justice Mike Wheat, who has served on the Supreme Court since 2010.
VanDyke went on inactive Montana bar status in 2007, when he was an attorney in private practice in Texas and then assistant solicitor general in that state.
His active status in Montana was reinstated in 2012, when he became solicitor general under Attorney General Tim Fox.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in District Court in Helena.
If a person has an inactive bar membership, he cannot practice law in the state, and therefore is not admitted to practice law in Montana, Jarussi said.
"You cannot even represent to people that you are qualified to practice law," Jarussi said.
VanDyke said the lawsuit is a politically motivated attempt to keep voters from deciding who they want to serve on the high court.
"I don't think this lawsuit has merit," he said.
The lawsuit also names Secretary of State Linda McCulloch as a defendant. McCulloch is responsible for placing the names of candidates seeking office on the ballot.