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Complaint filed against PSC candidate disputing residency

Complaint filed against PSC candidate disputing residency

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A Montana Democratic Party official is raising questions about where a Public Service Commission candidate's residence really is.

Montana Democrats executive director Sandi Luckey filed a political practices complaint against PSC District 3 Republican candidate James Brown regarding his residency.

District 3 covers southwest Montana, including Dillon, which is where Brown says he lives. Luckey’s complaint argues Brown is a Helena resident, which is outside District 3.

“Montanans expect our elected officials and candidates to tell the truth — and when it comes to his residency, Jim Brown lives outside PSC District #3 in the home he owns in Helena,” Luckey said in a statement.

The Commissioner of Political Practices received the complaint Sept. 14. Brown, who is running against Democrat Tom Woods, said the complaint is “patently false.”

“To me it’s an indication that they think I’m going to beat their PSC candidate,” Brown said of the complaint, “so they’re trying to create a story when there is none.”

Brown plans to submit his response to the commissioner's office later this week.

Commissioner Jeff Mangan said there’s no timeline for if or when further action may be taken.

In Brown’s candidate filing, he lists a Dillon post office box as his mailing address. His voter registration residence address is 108 S. Pacific St., in Dillon. That’s the home where he grew up and now lives with a cousin, Brown said.

Brown’s business, James Brown Law Office, is based in Helena at 30 S. Ewing St. According to the Montana Secretary of State Business Entity Report, Brown’s home address is listed as 1822 E. Broadway, in Helena.

Brown said he has another office at 15 S. Idaho St., in Dillon. He put his Helena address as his home address, Brown said, because he had to pick one and it’s near the primary office.

When asked how much time he spends at each home in Helena and Dillon, Brown said, “I’m not going to answer that because it’s not relevant.”

On Aug. 6, Mike Meloy, a lawyer representing the Montana Democrats, wrote a letter to Beaverhead County Clerk and Recorder Stacey Reynolds pointing out a potential difference in where Brown resides and where he said he resides in his registration to be a candidate.

Reynolds replied saying Brown registered to vote in August 2019 with the 108 S. Pacific St., address in Dillon, “which is owned by Gordon Marchesseault who has a close family relationship to Mr. Brown. It is also to my understanding that is where Mr. Brown currently resides.”

Before 2019, Brown was registered to vote in Helena.

Meloy sent a letter to Reynolds disputing the response on Aug. 31, and the political practices complaint was submitted a few weeks later.

“Montana Democrats will pursue whatever avenues necessary to hold Mr. Brown accountable, make sure the people of the 14 counties in PSC District #3 have representation on the PSC, and defend the integrity of this vital race,” Luckey said in a statement.

Brown said he planned on using Reynolds’ letter in his response to the complaint.

“What I find very disappointing but also telling about the Democratic Party is that they didn’t tell Commissioner of Political Practices that the county already rejected their complaint,” Brown said.

In 2008, Richard Motta ran against Jesse Laslovich for Senate District 43, which covers Granite County and parts of Deer Lodge and Powell counties. Motta argued that Laslovich violated legislative candidate residency rules.

Though Laslovich lived and worked in Helena, he was registered to vote in Deer Lodge County and returned there when not in Helena to work. Dennis Unsworth, the Commissioner of Political Practices at the time, ruled Laslovich didn’t break any rules.

In Montana’s laws for determining residence, it’s where a person lives “when not called elsewhere for labor or other special or temporary purpose.” It also says there may only be one residence for all purposes and a residence cannot be lost until another is gained. Lastly, residence can be changed “only by the union of act and intent.”

Brown said he interpreted the law and the Laslovich ruling as meaning he can live in multiple places while choosing where his residency is.

In the complaint, Luckey said Brown must prove Dillon as his residency beyond his declaration. She wrote that he “has done nothing which would constitute ‘a union of act and intent’ to change his residency to Dillon." The fact that his cousin "owns a home in Dillon is simply irrelevant to support a change in residency.”

Luckey added that the property at 108 S. Pacific St., appears to be unoccupied.

“(Brown) will have to meet the burden of coupling that declaration with facts supporting his residency in Dillon," Luckey wrote. "Moreover ... he must establish facts that demonstrate he ‘lost’ his residency in Helena when he registered to vote in Dillon.”

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