HELENA — Democratic attorney general candidate Raph Graybill is not eligible for the ballot because he hasn’t actively practiced law in Montana for five years, alleges a complaint filed this week with the state political practices office.
Graybill, however, said he will have met the requirement before the Nov. 3 election, and his campaign called the complaint is a “bad-faith, frivolous attack.”
“It’s disappointing that supporters of his opponent are resorting to a cheap, political hit to get him out of the way,” his campaign told MTN News Wednesday.
The complaint was filed earlier this week by former state lawmaker Dave Wanzenried, who is a supporter of Graybill’s opponent in the June 2 Democratic primary, state Rep. Kim Dudik of Missoula.
Wanzenried told MTN News Wednesday that he hadn’t spoken to Dudik about the complaint and that he filed it because the issue should be resolved now, so that it can’t be used by other political opponents in the future.
If Graybill is the Democratic nominee or wins the November election, others could use the argument to attempt to remove him from the ballot or office, Wanzenried said.
Commissioner of Political Practices Jeff Mangan said he’s expedited the process of deciding the complaint and will make a ruling sometime after both sides submit arguments by 5 p.m. Friday.
Graybill, 30, the chief counsel to Gov. Steve Bullock, is one of four people running for Montana’s open attorney general seat in 2020. Dudik is opposing him in the primary and two Republicans – Austin Knudsen and Jon Bennion – are also in the race.
Wanzrenried’s complaint notes that the state constitution says an attorney general candidate is not eligible unless he or she is “an attorney in good standing admitted to practice law in Montana who has engaged in the active practice thereof for at least five years before the election.”
Graybill was admitted to the practice of law in Montana on Sept. 22, 2015.
The complaint says he then worked as a clerk for a federal judge in Billings and a law firm in Seattle before moving back to Montana in 2017.
Federal rules say law clerks are “prohibited from practicing law” and that the Seattle law firm has no offices in Montana, so Graybill was not actively practicing law in Montana until three years ago, the complaint said.
It also said that even if his out-of-state legal work is considered practicing in Montana, his first election is the June 2 primary – which is less than five years since he was admitted by the State Bar.
In a response filed this week, Graybill’s campaign said he’s been engaged in the “active practice” of law the entire time since he was admitted by the State Bar in September 2015 – and that he’ll meet the five-year threshold by the Nov. 3 general election, which is the date that matters. The federal rule on clerks say only that they cannot take on additional clients while on the job, it said.
“There is no hidden, additional test for how many of an attorney’s cases are in Montana or whether an attorney is a litigator at all,” it wrote.