LISTEN – Wittich Attorney Discusses Guilty Verdict in Helena
A Helena jury found State Representative Art Wittich guilty of all charges late Friday night in a trial with far reaching implications for candidates in Montana elections.
The jury found that Wittich coordinated with and accepted services from organizations affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee by a vote of 10-2.
Wittich's attorney, Quentin Rhoades of Missoula, said he and his client were both surprised by the verdict.
"We were surprised and disappointed," Rhoades said. "We thought the case was going very well for us, and in no case through the trial did I feel that we were in any way behind. We were able to put on the case we wanted to put on. I know there were more folks than us who were surprised at the verdict, and we were disappointed, obviously."
Rhoades said no decision has yet been made as to whether an appeal will be filed.
"There are some appellate questions that may need to be answered, and there has not been any decision as to whether to appeal or not," he said. "There are quite a few hurdles that must be cleared before the final outcome is decided."
Rhoades said the influence of Jonathan Motl as the Montana Political Practices Commissioner has had a chilling effect on conservative politics in the state.
"There are conservative groups that cannot get candidates to answer their surveys to see where they stand on positions because of the experience that just occurred with Mr. Wittich and others who have answered surveys from Western Tradition Partnership," Rhoades said. "It's a blow between those constituents and those running for office, It's harder to get them to run because obviously if Mr. Wittich had realized in 2010 the financial and other consequences of running for office, he would never have run."
One of the consequences from the guilty verdict is that Wittich could be removed from office.
"His term has expired," Rhoades said, So, at this point there is no office to be removed from. He is running for reelection, so if he is reelected, that could become more than hypothetical."
The Bozeman Republican strongly denied there was any illegal coordination, and accused Motl of continuing his war against conservatives in Montana.