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Judge asked to punish pastor for alleged threats in defamation lawsuit

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HELENA — A Montana transgender activist who is suing a conservative Sidney pastor for defamation is now asking the presiding trial judge to sanction Pastor Jordan “JD” Hall, claiming the pastor has made repeated public threats of violence against her and her lawyers.

Adrian Jawort’s application for sanctions, filed Thursday with State District Judge Elizabeth Best of Great Falls, also said Hall inappropriately challenged and criticized Best in public statements.

“Threats and calls for large-scale violence are bells that cannot be undone,” wrote Jawort’s lawyer, Helena’s Constance Van Kley. “Hall’s supporters report hearing it, and some report they’re in on the joke every time Hall winks that his threats are a ‘metaphor’.”

Thursday’s request said Hall should be fined or possibly some other punishment holding him accountable for his actions, which are intended to “disrupt and undermine the proceedings.”

Hall, the founder of the online Montana Daily Gazette, published an article last spring that Jawort, of Billings, confronted a state senator in the halls of the Capitol during the 2021 Montana Legislature and that the senator was to be escorted to safety by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate.

MTN News

Adrian Jawort.

Jawort said the swap never happened and sued Hall last September for defamation. Since then, Hall has made a steady stream of public statements challenging Jawort and his attorneys, including Helena’s Raph Graybill, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2020.

Among other things, Hall posted a picture of Graybill’s name pasted next to wall racks of animal skulls and horns and said “he’s next”, introduced himself as David versus Goliath and said “don’t don’t mess with the army in the living God, because they’re gonna kill you,” and posted a photo of him holding a rocket-propelled grenade with the words “Democrat lawyers go after JD Hall – JD Hall is going on a statewide tour chasing them” superimposed on the photo.

Hall’s attorney, Matthew Monforton of Bozeman, told MTN News that nothing Hall said “qualifies as a genuine threat under the First Amendment.”

The sanctions request also noted that Monforton asked Hall to “fire Raph Graybill,” but that Hall himself said he was ignoring the advice of his own attorney: “I can’t do it. I can’t stop it. because it is the holy spirit in our heart that pushes us, pushes us, pushes us forward, with our hand on the plow, and we dare not take it away.

Hall also called Best “the most liberal (judge) in the state,” said her eyes should be opened to “this reality: for the Lord is our judge,” and said he would refuse to wear a face mask in court. or refer to Jawort with a feminine pronoun.

And, on Tuesday, he hosted an event in Great Falls, titled “Judicial Reform, Judge Best, and Removing Bad Judges from the State of Montana,” with “special guests” Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and Commissioner of public service Randy Pinocci, a Republican from nearby Sun River.

Best, the fourth judge assigned to the case, also issued two rulings this week, both against Hall.

On Tuesday, she said Jawort only had to prove Hall acted with “standard negligence”, to show that Jawort had been defamed, rather than “actual malice” on Hall’s part, which is a more difficult standard. Best also said that Hall used “an offensive and ignorant epithet used by transphobic people, obviously aimed at degrading Jawort”, when describing Jawort in the article.

The day before, Best dismissed Hall’s claim that Jawort had “abused process” by filing a lawsuit solely to seek financial gain for his cause.

Jawort also asked the judge to move the case out of Hall’s home county of Richland, saying Hall had systematically poisoned the jury panel against Jawort, making repeated postings and other public statements disparaging Jawort and his lawyers. Best has not yet ruled on this issue.