The American Association of Justice has announced that Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, will be one of its featured speakers at its winter convention in Maui, addressing the AAJ PAC town hall on February 1.
Odd choice. Schweitzer's last appearance at a trial lawyers' gathering, the 2008 AAJ summer convention in Philadelphia, provoked a political ruckus in Montana and bad publicity for his hosts. As we noted in this POL post, Schweitzer joked about tampering with the 2006 Senate election to help Jon Tester defeat incumbent Republican Sen. Conrad Burns. His eventual defense amounted to, "Oh, I was just having fun at the expense of my fellow Montana yokels."
Some contemperaneous headlines:
- New York Times, "Montana Officials Chastise Governor Over Boasts in Speech to Lawyers' Group"
- Associated Press, "Montana governor's election comments draw fire"
- Montana News Station, "MT AG won't investigate Schweitzer comments"
The audio of the speech is available here. Also see this subsequent POL post, "Montana's governor billed the taxpayers for his AAJ speech?"
Why in the world would either Gov. Schweitzer or the AAJ invite renewed attention to the Philadelphia fuss? Unless, perhaps, the group is having trouble getting speakers. Trips to sunny paradises are always fraught with political peril, even more so in an election year. The other speaker at the PAC Town Hall is Congressman Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), who's running for governor. Not much political risk welcoming visitors to your home state.
UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): In other Schweitzer-trial lawyer news, on December 23 the governor appointed Bozeman attorney Mike Wheat to fill a vacancy on the Montana Supreme Court for one year. (News release.) Wheat is a past president of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association. Wheat, a former state Senator and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2008. He intends to run for election this year to the remainder of the term, which runs through 2014, the Montana Standard reports.
UPDATE (Monday): The Chamber-backed Legal Newsline picks up our report, "Schweitzer to headline again at national trial lawyer convention."
Schweitzer's speech is set for February 1, coming right after his executive branch administrators return proposed 5 percent budget cuts to him. (Lee Newspapers story, "Schweitzer: Find cuts by Jan. 29. Montana's Legislature meets biennially, however, so there's less reason to stick close to home, Helena, in the middle of a long winter.