Free speech and free press under huge assault in Montana by LGBT legal network
Jordan Hall, Baptist pastor and publisher of popular conservative news site, sued for libel by transgender lobbyist
State’s left-wing legal establishment & well-funded LGBT “lawfare” mob seek to stop site’s influential voice
Far-left Judge to hold preliminary hearing Feb. 16 to determine whether pastor is a “dangerous person"
February 15, 2022
A conservative pastor who is the publisher of Montana’s largest and most influential conservative news site is being sued for “libel” by a bizarre transgender lobbyist. The leftist judge assigned to the case is also threatening the pastor with fines and a gag order even before the trial takes place.
This assault on free speech and free press is buttressed by the state’s far-left legal establishment and appears to be funded by the wealthy LGBT and Planned Parenthood lobby. The aggressive legal action, including an invasive “discovery” process of the pastor’s media operation, is clearly aimed to put the conservative news site and its subsidiary voices out of business. The radicals would even like to dictate what the pastor may say in his own church.
Montana Democrats are still reeling from the Republican blowout victory in the 2020 election. Republicans now have a super-majority in both houses of the Legislature, and hold the Governorship and all statewide offices (Attorney General, Secretary of State, Supervisor of Public Instruction, Auditor).
Paradoxically, the judiciary in Montana is dominated by leftists. The state’s only law school is at the very liberal University of Montana and the state’s lawyers – and thus the judges – are far more left-wing than the general population.
Just as in DC back in 2016, the Democrats’ response to the Republican sweep has been to lash out wildly. Leftist attorneys are using the liberal courts in Montana to challenge conservative bills passed in the 2021 legislative session (pro-life laws, the ban on transgender boys in girls’ sports, strengthening parents’ rights, reining in sex ed, strengthening election law, and banning discrimination on the basis of vaccination status). They are also contesting Attorney General Knudsen’s and Supervisor of Public Instruction Arntzen’s policies banning Critical Race Theory and declaring masks optional in schools.
One news site stands out
As in other conservative areas, the news media across the state is also horribly left-wing. The one prominent exception is the Montana Daily Gazette, published by Jordan (“JD”) Hall, who is also a Baptist minister. The Gazette is bold and straight-shooting, with a down-to-earth style – and is definitely not “PC.” It has caught the attention of Montanans tired of the other news outlets. On many days, the Gazette often claims the highest readership of any news source in Montana. Some say its fearless reporting contributed to the Republican sweep in the 2020 election.
Hall is also very influential in Montana through his other conservative Christian media. He runs the well-respected religious blog Protestia, the podcast Pulpit & Pen, and a radio station. He shares Christian truth without reservation.
While many conservatives are becoming reluctant to speak out publicly on hot-button issues, Pastor Hall is fearless – and has definitely become a thorn in the side of the Left in Montana.
Bizarre transgender lobbyist in the Montana Capitol
Adrian Jawort identifies as “transgender” and is a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. He is also a registered lobbyist in the Montana legislature. He is quite a sight in that building. As his own attorneys describe him:
His demeanor and antics around the Capitol are infamous. According to Hall, Jawort and another transgender activist simulated sodomy in the Supreme Court chambers until told by security to leave.
Legislators were familiar with Jawort’s “torrent of obscene, angry social media posts that he published throughout the 2021 legislative session” (according to a court filing by Hall). Luckily, Hall took screen shots of some of those posts before Jawort deleted them.
We have been told that at first many legislators did not know Jawort was a lobbyist, but assumed he was a homeless man wandering around the building. Not surprisingly, “numerous legislators” had contacted Hall with concerns about Jawort’s lobbying style.
On April 22, 2021, one of the most controversial transgender bills of the legislative session, HB 112 (the bill barring transgender male students from participating on female sports teams), was scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor. Six or seven transgender activists, including Jawort, converged on the Montana Capitol that day to try to halt its passage. According to a court filing, Jawort made clear earlier in the day that he would vigorously lobby Senators to vote against HB 112.
Eyewitnesses later contacted Hall to report that Jawort and his cohorts, wearing Covid masks and makeup, encountered legislators in the Capitol hallways. Allegedly, there was some abusive language directed at the legislators, and one of them, an elderly Senator, had to be escorted away to avoid the disturbance.
The Montana Daily Gazette coverage – and alleged libel
Before publishing his report on the event, Jordan Hall contacted Jawort asking to get his side of the story. But Jawort refused to talk with him.
On May 3, 2021, the Montana Daily Gazette published Hall’s article, Who’s the Gothic Transvestite Haunting the Halls of the Montana Capitol? It did not hold back in its general description of Jawort, culled from the numerous phone calls Hall had received:
The article also included these two profane quotes from Jawort’s social media posts:
Regarding the confrontation with legislators, the Gazette article simply had two sentences:
Those two sentences are now at the center of the huge lawsuit. They would seem rather innocuous, especially given the larger context.
Jawort ignites over the article – files failed lawsuit
On July 12, 2021, Jawort filed a complaint against Hall in Richland County Court (where Hall’s hometown of Sidney is located). He demanded monetary damages for Hall’s “transphobic” statements and for supposedly “doxing” him (though Hall had included only publicly available information from Jawort’s public Facebook or tweets).
But there is no such crime as “transphobia” in Montana law (or US law), and the case went nowhere. Nevertheless, Jawort set up a GoFundMe page for his attempted lawsuit charging “transphobic hate speech.”
A new lawsuit – alleging libel
Soon after that, Jawort connected with a group of well-heeled leftist attorneys willing to take on his case. He is now being represented by Attorney Raph Graybill and two attorneys at the Upper Seven Law firm, Constance Van Kley and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan. Graybill is a well-known Montana attorney who recently ran for state Attorney General (losing 59%-41%). The Upper Seven Law firm is a social-justice group apparently set up for cases like this. All three attorneys clerked at the left-leaning Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The attorneys re-filed the case and changed the charge to libel. They are focusing only on the two sentences cited above: "Reportedly, the angry transvestite and several of his associates had cornered Senator Butch Gillespie in an angry tirade. Also reportedly, Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Laszloffy escorted Sen. Gillespie to the Sergeant of Arms for his protection."
They are claiming that Jawort was not present at that confrontation – not part of the group that accosted the legislators – so these are false, libelous statements. They assert that since the group was wearing masks, it was only assumed that Jawort was one of them. They are seeking $250,000 in damages from Hall.
The claim of libel would not appear to hold much water: (1) Hall’s article said only that Jawort was “reportedly” part of the group. That is not a false statement. (2) Despite a mask, Jawort is a very recognizable figure – a 6’3” man wearing a black dress with a distinctive voice. (3) Hall attempted to get Jawort’s side of the story, but Jawort refused. (4) By any sensible legal definition, Jawort is a “limited public figure” which in Montana requires a high standard for libel. (5) Hall relied on credible sources who identified Jawort as the individual who accosted the Senator, and as a credentialed journalist he does not have to reveal these sources.
The arguments put forth in Jawort’s lawyers’ filings appear to be very weak and amateurish, though strongly worded. Thus, in a normal court this would get very far. But this isn’t a normal situation at all.
Through a series of events, Jawort’s lawyers were able to get the case heard in a different county under a judge, Elizabeth Best, who is arguably the most ruthlessly left-wing in the state. She is notorious among Montanans for her leftist judicial activism. (A Change.org petition has 2,325 signatures calling for her removal from the bench.)
Judicial bias and enormous legal harassment
Judge Best has not hidden her disdain for Pastor Hall. In one court ruling, she characterized his article as using “an offensive and ignorant epithet used by transphobic people, obviously aimed at demeaning Jawort.” Thus, the judge is accusing him of ignorance and “transphobia” – and even before the trial, exposes her belief that Hall intended to demean (libel) Jawort.
She has ruled that Jawort is not a “limited public figure,” and that the confrontation incident had no connection to Jawort’s work as a lobbyist. This means that the plaintiff does not have to prove “malice,” just “negligence” on Hall’s part.
Judge Best has allowed Jawort’s lawyers to conduct an enormous amount of legal harassment against Hall, mostly in for form of incredibly aggressive “discovery” demands, almost on a daily basis. Jawort’s lawyers are demanding records and other information on virtually everything about the Montana Daily Gazette business, plus extensive information about everyone who works there. He’s being told to provide his text messages and emails going back years on every person he’s contacted. He must provide copies of every sermon he has given, every manuscript he has written, and even his sermon and public speaking notes. Objections to this by Hall’s lawyer have been overruled by Judge Best. (Moreover, it is well known that Best is close friends with Graybill, Jawort's lawyer.)
It's been estimated that Jawort's legal team has already spent over $150,000 on this case - and the trial hasn't even begun.
Special hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 16 to determine if Hall is a “threat” to public order
Pastor Hall’s actual trial hasn’t been scheduled. But Judge Best is conducting a special hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 16, to determine if Hall is a “threat” to public order.
Over the past few months, Hall has traveled around the state giving speeches in order to raise money for his legal defense. His lawyer says he will need a minimum of $100,000. His speeches are mostly to Christian groups. Being a Baptist pastor, Hall uses a lot of Bible quotes and Christian imagery. Jawort’s lawyers are charging – and Judge Best seems to be agreeing – that these speeches somehow constitute “threats” to the plaintiff, the judge, and others. (Of course, Hall has no history whatsoever of threats or violence.) The judge is prepared to impose extreme sanctions on Hall over this.
Best is also angry that Hall is reluctant to follow her “mask mandate” in the courtroom. Montana has no mask mandates whatsoever at this time, and it is very questionable whether Best has the authority to impose one.
According to information we have, Best has likely decided to impose both judicial and financial sanctions at the hearing on Wednesday. The judicial sanctions could include a gag order or other limitations. The financial sanctions could be a fine anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's also likely she could declare a default judgment against him, so a trial would not even be held.
This is the frightening state of affairs in the supposedly “red” state of Montana. We will report on what happens at the hearing.
Throughout all this, the thing that has saddened Pastor Hall the most, he told us, is the number of conservative Christian pastors who have shied away from publicly supporting him. It’s not that they think he’s wrong. They privately admit that they are “afraid” of the LGBT movement and the power of the state. As one pastor told him, “I just can’t have them picketing my church.”
God Bless Jordan Hall. We need a thousand more like him. You can donate to his legal defense fund here.
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