Debunking the GOP’s “Frivolous” Lawsuits Lie

For years Montanans have been subjected to the claim that “environmental extremists” have been flooding the court system with “frivolous lawsuits.”

These absolutely false accusations have come from some of our top elected Republican officials including Sen. DainesGov. Gianforte, and Reps. Zinke and Rosendale to name a few. Strangely enough not one of these politicians has ever been able to actually cite a Montana judge tossing an environmental lawsuit as frivolous.

Why? Because it’s never happened.

It’s not hard to see why these politicians would try to mislead Montanans on environmental lawsuits. But when an individual or environmental organization files a lawsuit to protect endangered species, their habitat, or reckless public policies that degrade the environment, there’s nothing frivolous about it.

Most people, and certainly most politicians, know it’s neither cheap nor easy to file a lawsuit — especially if the defendant happens to be the federal, state, or local government.

You better have your ducks in a row when you go before a judge because there’s no guaranteed outcome. The arguments of plaintiffs and defendants stand on their merits and legal precedent. When environmentalists or conservationists win their suits — and they do so quite often — it’s because the facts and the law prevail.

Of course it’s handy to label those lawsuits “frivolous” because they often overturn the projects or policies forwarded by agencies and politicians that place commerce and development as the highest and best use for every public resource.

However, as reported by the Washington Post, Donald J. Trump has now provided a perfect opportunity for those same politicians to see what actually happens when a frivolous lawsuit is filed. A Florida federal judge just sanctioned Trump and his lawyer, Alina Habba, for their frivolous lawsuit against Hillary Clinton over the 2016 campaign — and slapped them with a whopping $937,989.39 fine.

Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks didn’t mince his words in his 46-page judgment, calling Trump a “prolific and sophisticated litigant” who “is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries.”

But he didn’t stop there, writing: “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions. As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.”

As Middlebrook added: “Here, we are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose.”

Sen. Daines, Gov. Gianforte, Reps. Zinke and Rosendale and your anti-environmental cohorts that accuse environmentalists of filing frivolous lawsuits might just want to think about that before flinging more baseless accusations.

Never has any Montana judge thrown out an environmental lawsuit, sanctioned, nor fined an environmental plaintiff or their attorneys for filing a frivolous suit — let alone dressing them down in such an unambiguous ruling.

There’s nothing frivolous about trying to keep forests standing, water in rivers, and wildlife from going extinct due to mankind’s constant and often destructive manipulation.

As Albert Einstein wrote: “One thing I have learned in a long life: that all our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike. We still do not know one thousandth of one percent of what nature has revealed to us.”

It’s time Montana’s politicians dropped their facetious characterization of environmental advocacy as “frivolous” — especially in light of Montana’s constitutional mandate that: “The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.