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Lake County Justice of the Peace JoAnn “Joey” Jayne’s application to replace District Court Judge C.B. McNeil has been rejected amid allegations of plagiarism.

According to meeting minutes posted online, Judicial Nomination Commission members unanimously decided on Sept. 11 to dismiss Jayne’s application because it was incomplete and “the applicant admitted that she lacked confidence in her ability to research and conduct legal writing, that the applicant failed to follow the directions in submitting the application, and that there may be a question as to whether plagiarism was involved.”

The commission was tasked with submitting names for consideration for the 20th Judicial District Court judge position, which covers Lake and Sanders counties, to Gov. Steve Bullock by Oct. 3 after McNeil announced his retirement partway through his fifth six-year term.

After receiving a complaint that brought into question whether Jayne’s writing sample was original, commission members decided during their Aug. 21 meeting to request a response from Jayne about the allegation, minutes show.

Jayne won a 12-way race to replace Lake County Justice of the Peace Chuck Wall last year, and was defeated by McNeil in 2008 for the district judge position. She contends the allegations stem from an inadvertent mistake made in her haste to finish her application packet.

“The big issue here is whether there was plagiarism, and there was not,” Jayne said, adding she feels singled out due to political reasons.

Judge Richard Simonton, chairman of the commission, declined a request for comment.

In her rush to finish her application and submit it the day it was due, Jayne said she didn’t realize that the writing sample was required to be written by the applicant, despite the underlined instruction in the form.

All lawyers use “brief banks” and modify prewritten filings to suit their clients’ needs, which is what she used as her writing sample, she said, questioning whether other applicants’ writing samples were as closely analyzed as hers.

“If they’re going to scrutinize me, they have to scrutinize everyone else as to what their activities have been in this whole process,” Jayne said.

The court filing that Jayne submitted was a modified version of a court filing originally furnished to her by a partner at James Manley’s law firm for a 2007 case. Manley also is an applicant for the district judge position.

“I do not recall that there were any restrictions on how I could use it,” Jayne wrote in the affidavit she sent to the commission in response to the allegations and provided to the Missoulian.

“I submitted the motion in the Matter of the Estate of Berton N. Shultz, because I wanted to submit a document I filed in the 20th Judicial District Court. I do recall, in my haste, that I quickly thought, ‘This is a motion I made with permitted use of its contents so it should be fine,’ ” she wrote.

“Now that I reread the application instructions for a writing sample, I do concede that the writing I submitted is not my original writing,” she continued.

She didn’t consider more recent court opinions she has written as justice of the peace because “for some reason or the other I allowed my confidence in my ability to research and conduct legal writing to waiver. I felt a justice court opinion was not ‘sophisticated or complex enough or worthy’ of publication with my application.”

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Jayne also said her established record as an elected judge and former legislator, as well as being a Native American woman, challenges the status quo.

“Basically, my initial reaction was to be flattered that many were so threatened by my application that they resorted to mudslinging,” she said.

Lake County residents know her character, Jayne said. “They are the judges of me, not the nomination commission, who do not live in Lake County.”

In the affidavit, Jayne wrote: “It was never my intention, desire, or plan to be fraudulent in my application as I uphold my occupation as an attorney, judge, and my citizenship with great responsibility, respect, diligence, and honesty. I sincerely apologize to the Judicial Nomination Commission if it appeared I misled you or the public. I feel absolutely terrible that I may have tarnished my integrity, a virtue I hold so dear and sacred, by my inattention to the application instructions.”

Commission members will interview the remaining applicants Sept. 24.

Those candidates are: Steven Eschenbacher, managing attorney at the Polson Office of the State Public Defender; James Manley, owner and practitioner at Manley Law Firm in Polson; James Raymond, sole practitioner at Raymond Law Office in Polson and Polson’s city attorney; Mark Russell, chief deputy prosecutor in the Lake County Attorney’s Office and the Hot Springs city attorney; and John Schulte of Schulte Law Firm in Polson.

Bullock’s decision is required by Oct. 30.

Each candidate’s application is available at courts.mt.gov/supreme/boards/jud_nomination/default.mcpx.

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Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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