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Good judges are critically important to good government. A good judge balances issues of the written law with concern about fairness, justice, community interests and common sense.

The retirement of Judge Karen Townsend opens a judicial vacancy in Missoula and Mineral counties. The Judicial Nominations Commission (JNC) has received applications from 10 people for this vacancy. They will make a selection, based in part on public comments received during June, about which names to forward to the governor for interim appointment to this judgeship. This comment period is one of the few ways citizens can provide input on the qualifications (positive or negative) of applicants. The applications are posted on the JNC website.

I have firsthand experience that one of the applicants for this judgeship, Deputy County Attorney Donald James McCubbin, is temperamentally and philosophically unsuited to be a fair and impartial judge. It is important that others with knowledge of McCubbin and/or the other applicants take advantage of the June window to let the JNC know of your positive or negative views on applicants’ suitability to be a judge.

In 2010, McCubbin targeted our Lolo-based guest ranch (Dunrovin) with preliminary injunctions demanding that we close. His reasons for this involved convoluted and illogical interpretations of state statues. He said that we were “too small” to be a “small” guest ranch because we had too few client accommodations. He also asserted, as he’d previously done with others, that our property was an “unauthorized subdivision” because it had more than one structure on it (what he called a “subdivision for lease or rent”). McCubbin arrogantly refused to meet with us to discuss possible solutions to his concerns. He further refused to allow county departments to issue us permits to correct what he identified as our deficiencies (e.g. building and septic upgrade permits).

McCubbin constructed a nightmarish legal maze of his interpretations that was impossible to navigate. Our primary remaining option was to ask the Legislature to clarify the statutes involved. We did this but it took three bills, one each in three sessions, to defeat McCubbin. On two of these bills (in 2011 and 2015), the Legislature’s vote was unanimous to reject McCubbin’s interpretations. In the 2013 session, the Legislature rejected McCubbin’s “subdivision for lease or rent” interpretation unanimously in the House and 43-6 in the Senate (Senate Bill 324).

Additionally, McCubbin’s assertion that Dunrovin was “too small” to be a “small” guest ranch was scornfully rejected by Judge Ed McLean in a 2015 decision. McLean stated that McCubbin’s case was “unfair, nonsensical and bizarre,” and that Dunrovin Ranch was being “harassed.” McLean said the county (McCubbin), not us, was breaking the law. Judge McLean said that McCubbin’s case was “all about showing who’s boss” and ordered Missoula County to pay our legal fees, $57,000 of taxpayer money.

No doubt McCubbin expected us to close our operation rather than fight; most people do. Fortunately, we had an excellent judge hearing the case, a good attorney, and the Legislature did its job. Had the Legislature not recognized the statewide threat posed by McCubbin’s “subdivision for lease or rent” interpretation, much of Montana’s economy would have been damaged as there are at least tens of thousands of Montana properties that have more than one structure. Had McCubbin succeeded in shutting down Dunrovin, western Montana would have lost a valuable business that attracts both local and non-local clients, and provides free live-streaming access to our osprey nest web camera.

Please take a stand to assure that we have a good judge to carry on the legacy of Ed McLean and Karen Townsend, both of whom served the Fourth Judicial District with distinction and wisdom.

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Sterling Miller runs the Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo with his wife, SuzAnne.

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