In an order filed today, Missoula District Judge John Larson said a lawsuit against former Commissioner of Political Practices Dave Gallik can proceed.
Gallik resigned as commissioner in January 2012, shortly after the Great Falls Tribune reported allegations made by Gallik's former staff members who claimed Gallik, an attorney, was conducting private law practice work out of his state office.
The Bozeman-based conservative watchdog group the Montana Policy Institute brought the lawsuit in March 2012 after the articles first ran in the Tribune.
The lawsuit was filed under the “False Claims Act,” a law Gallik carried when he was in the state House of Representatives in 2005.
The False Claims Act law authorizes a private person to prosecute a recovery and civil sanction action on behalf of the state government against any person who obtains payment from a government entity by means of a knowingly false or fraudulent representation or claim. The Montana Attorney General can then decide whether to join in on the lawsuit, stay out of the lawsuit, or move to dismiss the lawsuit altogether.
Great Falls attorney Ward "Mick" Taleff, the attorney representing the state in the case, last November argued in court that the case should be dismissed because the Montana Policy Institute lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.
The state asserted that Gallik’s alleged conduct was performed within the scope of his duties to the state. The state also argued the allegations in the complain mirrored those publically disclosed in the Tribune articles, and thus MPI cannot identify direct and independent knowledge of the allegations.
MPI argued in court that the group filed a freedom of information request several moths prior to the Tribune’s FOI request and subsequent news reports.
Larson ruled in favor of MPI, saying state law does not preclude MPI from bringing the case. The judge denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case.
The state now has 10 days to elect to intervene in the proceedings against Gallik or it must notify the court that it declines to take over the action. If the state elects to intervene, the state has to serve the complain on all defendants within 20 days of the intervening action. If the state declines to intervene, then then MPI can serve the defendants and move on with the lawsuit.
I’ll update this post throughout the day as I learn more.
UPDATE: Here’s the judge’s full order.