BILLINGS, Mont. — A Billings attorney violated the rules of professional conduct by trying to obstruct access to evidence in a campaign-finance investigation, a state judge has ruled.

District Judge Kathy Seeley of Helena ordered attorney Emily Jones to pay reasonable costs incurred by the commissioner of political practices to overcome her interference in the investigation into the 2012 campaign activities of the Montana Growth Network. The costs have yet to be determined, The Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/2tdur9o) reported.

The violation occurred when Jones wrote to donors and others involved with the network and warned them not to share information about her husband’s political consulting firm with the commissioner’s office, saying it was confidential.

“The logical consequence of any attorney acting behind the scenes to interfere with discovery responses is of great concern,” Seeley wrote in her July 12 order sanctioning Jones, noting that contacting other witnesses is prohibited. Seeley also forwarded it to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for consideration of an ethical complaint against Jones.

Jones’ husband, Jake Eaton, owned 47 North Communications and is a former executive director of the Montana Republican Party. He is a witness in the investigation into the Montana Growth Network along with former state lawmakers Jason Priest, Art Wittich, Jeff Essman and Ed Walker and Billings businessman Thomas Hauptman.

In December 2015, then-commissioner Jonathan Motl said there was enough evidence to take the Montana Growth Network to court for violating campaign finance laws by spending corporate money on ads attacking Supreme Court candidate Ed Sheehy, rather than on issue ads. The network raised over $900,000.

Laurie McKinnon, who was a district court judge in Choteau, defeated Sheehy in the November 2012 Supreme Court election.

Eaton issued a statement Monday saying the ruling against his wife was partisan.

“You have a Democrat judge ruling in favor of the Democrat lawyers who are representing the Democratic Commissioner of Political Practices against a Republican,” Eaton said in an email. “This ruling ignored the facts, the law and the evidence in order to advance the liberal cause — that’s disturbing.”

The commissioner’s court case against Montana Growth Network is still ongoing.


Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com