Opinion: Law prof’s moonlighting a disqualifier for high court

Professors are not just employees of the institutions they serve, they are ambassadors. Rightly or wrongly, their conduct reflects on our Montana universities as a whole.

According to the American Association of College Professors’ Statement of Professional Ethics, “Professors must give due regard to their paramount responsibilities within their institution in determining the amount and character of work done outside it. Professors need to stay away from employment outside the university that creates the appearance of a conflict of interest or otherwise negatively affects the university.”


Kristen Juras

In other words, professors shouldn’t moonlight in a way that hurts the reputation of the university.

In 2012, University of Montana law professor Kristen Juras presented a “study” to the Montana Legislature regarding property taxes. The “study” was actually commissioned and paid for by Bresnan, which was seeking to lower its own property taxes to the detriment of Montana taxpayers.

Juras used university resources in putting the study together. Her study prominently noted that it was prepared by her as “Associate Professor, University of Montana School of Law.” She failed to note anywhere in her study that it was paid for by Bresnan.

Juras was rightly criticized for her misconduct. Then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer wrote to UM President Royce Engstrom about it, concerned that Juras—as a law professor—was advancing a position for Bresnan that would limit Bresnan’s own taxes and leave a gaping hole in Montana’s budget. Engstrom responded by acknowledging that Juras had “apparently” violated university policy by using the University of Montana name in her report, failing to note that the “study” was not affiliated with the University, and by using university resources (and not reimbursing the University for them).

The larger problem, however, is that Juras sold the University of Montana’s inherent institutional credibility to a Delaware corporation looking to pay less taxes in Montana. Juras has never disclosed how much she was paid for this “study” by Bresnan.

Perhaps most troubling, Juras learned nothing from the Bresnan scandal.

Tidyman’s was a grocery chain founded in Billings in 1961 and owned by its 1,300 employees. Facing competition from larger chains, the employee-owners were misled in a corporate merger. Over the objection of Tidyman’s own bankers, the corporate officers failed to disclose critical information to the employee-owners and pushed through the merger to save their own high-paying jobs.

Not long after that, Tidyman’s shut its doors and the Montana employee-owners were told—for the first time—that their retirement accounts were worth zero.

Faced with massive liability for corporate fraud that cost the retirements of over 1,300 employees, the insurance company turned to Professor Kristen Juras for help. Juras was hired as an expert and has worked to prevent the 1,300 Montana employees and retirees from receiving any compensation. Some had worked for the company over 20 years and counted on those retirement funds. Some, at over 50 years old, had to start completely over. Eight have died since the case was filed. Juras has never disclosed how much she has been paid by the insurance company to advocate against honest, hard-working Montanans.

Juras apparently hasn’t been satisfied with her university salary. She has moonlighted on behalf of corporations whose interests are directly opposed to the people of Montana. Now, as she seeks a position on the Montana Supreme Court, corporations and out-of-state special interests are lining up to fill her campaign coffers.

There can be no doubt why. She has a track record of selling out Montanans.

John Heenan is a graduate of the University of Montana (undergrad and law school) and practices consumer protection law in Billings. He is the director of Montanans for Experienced Judges, a group of Montana attorneys concerned about the influence of corporations and out-of-state special interest groups in Montana judicial elections.

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