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Judge asked to sanction pastor for alleged threats in libel suit

Posted at 5:52 PM, Jan 27, 2022

HELENA — A Montana transgender activist suing a conservative pastor from Sidney for libel is now asking the lawsuit’s presiding judge to sanction pastor Jordan “J.D.” Hall, saying the pastor is making repeated public threats of violence against her and her attorneys.

The request for sanctions from Adrian Jawort, filed Thursday with state District Judge Elizabeth Best of Great Falls, also said Hall has been inappropriately challenging and criticizing Best in public statements.

“Threats and calls for violence on a mass scale are bells that cannot be unrung,” wrote Jawort’s attorney, Constance Van Kley of Helena. “Hall’s followers report that they have heard him, and some report that they’re in on the joke whenever Hall winks that his threats are `metaphor.’”

Thursday’s request said Hall should be sanctioned with a fine or perhaps some other penalty finding him liable for his actions, which are meant to “disrupt and undermine the proceedings.”

Hall, the founder of the online Montana Daily Gazette, posted an article last spring that said Jawort, of Billings, had confronted a state senator in the halls of the Capitol during the 2021 Montana Legislature and that the senator had to be escorted to safety at the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms.

Adrian Jawort.

Jawort said the exchange never happened and sued Hall last September for libel. Since then, Hall has made a steady stream of public statements challenging Jawort and her lawyers, including Raph Graybill of Helena, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2020.

Among other things, Hall has posted a picture of Graybill’s name taped next to wall-mounts of animal skulls and horns and said “he’s next,” cast himself as David vs. Goliath and said “don’t jack with the army in the living God, because they’ll kill you,” and posted a picture of himself holding a rocket-propelled grenade with the words “Democrat lawyers go after JD Hall – JD Hall goes on statewide tour going after them back” superimposed on the photo.

Hall’s lawyer, Matthew Monforton of Bozeman, told MTN News that nothing Hall has said “qualify as a true threat under the First Amendment.”

The request for sanctions also noted that Monforton has asked Hall to "lay off Raph Graybill," but that Hall has said himself that he is ignoring his own attorney's advice: "I can’t do it. I can’t stop it. It is compulsory. Because it is the holy spirit in our heart compelling us, pushing us, prodding us forward, with our hand on the plow, and dare we not take it off.”

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

And, on Tuesday, he held 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 Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci, a Republican from nearby Sun River.

Best, the fourth judge on the case, also issued two rulings this week, both of which went against Hall.

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

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

Jawort also has asked the judge to move the case out of Hall’s home county, Richland, saying Hall has systematically poisoned the jury pool against Jawort, by making repeated postings and other public statements denigrating Jawort and her attorneys. Best has yet to rule on that question.