A seven-year-old dispute over a sex advice column in the University of Montana's student newspaper has found its way into the state's Supreme Court race.
High court nominee Kristen Juras said she revived the issue on her Facebook page and campaign website "because I had been asked some questions about it" by members of the public, and by her opponent.
In 2009, Juras, then an assistant professor of law at UM, took issue with a Montana Kaimin column titled "Bess Sex," written by student Bess Davis (now Pallares). The columns, which ran during the spring semester in 2009, discussed topics ranging from sexual technique to sex toy gifts to cohabitation in college.
In her Sept. 19 Facebook post, Juras said the column in the student newspaper was discontinued following the U.S. Department of Justice's investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases by the Missoula Police Department, Missoula County Attorney’s Office and UM police.
In fact, the column was discontinued in 2009 because Pallares graduated, though a sex column has existed in some form in the Kaimin since.
The DOJ investigation began in 2012 after allegations of mishandling of sexual assault cases on campus.
Juras uploaded "UM Newspaper Documents" to her campaign website a day after the Facebook post. They include scans of some of Pallares' columns, as well as emails between Juras and then-Kaimin editor Bill Oram.
On Tuesday, the Kaimin's editorial board fired back, publishing "Anyone but Juras for Montana Supreme Court.''
Oram said he was shocked to see the sex column debacle return.
In a video Juras posted to Facebook, she sings – to the tune of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show's "Cover of the Rolling Stone" – about her "version of what went down," including lines such as "Letters filled the pages and my name became famous. That is how I've learned, if you want to get attention then just give an opinion that pisses off the editor."
The video didn't bother Oram and Pallares. In fact, Oram called it "hilarious" and "charming."
"I give her credit being that committed to singing that poorly," he said.
But the statement she posted with the video infuriated them, and the current Kaimin editorial board.
"Her claims signify a level of cognitive dissonance extremely concerning for a Supreme Court candidate," the editorial board wrote. "That a law professor would take such significant offense to a fairly tame sex column, then use it as a rallying point in her campaign for public office is disconcerting."
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, agreed.
"To double down on that in the course of a campaign really makes you wonder about her capabilities for reflection," LoMonte said. "It's one thing to make a misjudgment in the heat of the moment when you're emotional ... but to be reliving that years later and celebrating that misjudgment really makes you concerned about her understanding of the First Amendment."
Oram said he thought the issue was "ancient history."
"I think if Professor Juras wanted to use her stance on the sex column and her activism as part of her platform, that's fine," he said. "But she has to at least tell the history correctly.
"I just don't understand the revisionist history, the purpose of revisionist history."
Added Pallares, "Montana doesn't need another judge who conflates consensual sex and rape. It's very important to me that people understand the timeline there, and to just be reminded that a column about consensual sex has absolutely nothing to do with rape culture on campuses."
In the Facebook post, Juras wrote, "The column was discontinued after the United States launched a comprehensive review of the university's handling of sexual assault and harassment complaints, including a review of student education efforts."
Juras doesn't agree that she made any correlation between the sex column and campus sexual assault and rape.
"You can go back and read what I wrote. I did not say that," she said Wednesday. "I don't think her column encouraged rape. She did not expressly say that. I do think the column promoted what I would call a hook-up culture at a time when I was concerned about sexual assault escalating on campus."
In spring 2009, Juras – and several others – wrote letters to the editor to the Kaimin protesting the sex column.
But Juras took it a step further when she penned a letter to then-UM president George Dennison and then-School of Journalism Dean Peggy Kuhr in March 2009. She asked them to meet with Kaimin editorial staff to "ask them to reconsider their publication of this column."
In an interview with the Missoulian at the time, Juras said that while she supports students' First Amendment rights, she questioned the educational value of a sex column, calling it "inappropriate, unimportant, unprofessional content."
The Kaimin is an independent student newspaper. All editorial decisions are made by students. While it receives some funding from student fees, it is not under administrative review.
Oram called Juras' efforts in 2009 a push for censorship, an "anti-First Amendment argument."
Also that spring, Juras, Oram, then-journalism professor Clem Work, law professor Larry Howell and then-political science department chair James Lopach participated in a forum discussing the controversy.
Juras said in the Facebook post that "all of the major newspapers" refused to publish Pallares' column. The column was not syndicated, therefore it could not be picked up and published anywhere other than the Kaimin.
Juras called the syndication issue a "red herring," saying that she asked newspapers in Montana to print excerpts of the columns but that they did not.
"It's really peculiar to turn that into an asset to a political campaign, especially one for judicial office," LoMonte said. "You would expect a person running for judicial office to show a little more restraint. If her version of history is that she managed to get a newspaper column discontinued, that's hardly something you'd want to see (her) celebrating.
"Silencing a newspaper columnist is a matter of serious gravity and to treat it like it's a joke isn't much of a reflection of judicial temperament."
Juras said Wednesday she hasn't read the Kaimin's editorial because she's on the road and doesn't have internet access.
"I want to focus on my campaign, the importance of bringing to the Montana Supreme Court an attorney with 34 years of experience," she said. "I want to focus on why voters should vote for me."
She recalled talking with her students about the column in 2009 and "how it promoted a hook-up culture.''
"There were articles on how to perform oral sex, better positions than missionary," she said. "It was never a question of can you publish an article on oral sex in the Kaimin – of course you can. The question is should you. I was not at all opposed to some column on sex; obviously it's a relevant topic to college students."
Juras' conservative stances have been made her a target this campaign season.
She has been criticized by the Montana Cowgirl blog and, during an election forum Sept. 15 in Missoula, Juras was questioned about how her religious beliefs could influence her consideration of same-sex marriage. Her opponent, Cascade County District Judge Dirk Sandefur, accused Juras of using the issue "to inflame the Christian community" against him.
In 2007, UM's student chapter of the Christian Legal Society – which Juras led as faculty adviser – sued UM's Law School after it was denied funding by the Student Bar Association. The chapter required that its voting members and leaders agree to a "statement of faith" that includes the belief that Christians shouldn't have sex before marriage and that marriage is between a man and a woman.