HELENA — A case accusing a conservative Sidney pastor of libeling a transgender activist will be tried in Great Falls, because the pastor has tainted the local jury poll in Richland County with repeated “inflammatory” public comments, a judge has ruled.
State District Judge Elizabeth Best of Great Falls issued the order Thursday, granting a request from Adrian Jawort to move the case and trial out of Sidney and Richland County. Jawort, an activist and lobbyist from Billings, is suing pastor Jordan “J.D.” Hall for libel, saying he printed false and defamatory statements last year about her in Hall’s online publication, the Montana Daily Gazette.
Best noted that since the lawsuit was filed last September, Hall has repeatedly used social and other media to talk about the case, the jury pool and the trial, including comments that are “inflammatory and (have) suggested violence against Jawort’s counsel.”
Best said she doesn’t think Richland County residents “are inherently biased,” but that Hall’s “media blitz against Jawort and her attorneys will likely result in a large number of potential jurors having deeply held opinions about the case and parties.”
Also last Thursday, Jawort’s attorneys asked Best to sanction Hall for what they said are repeated public threats of violence against them and Jawort.
Best has yet to rule on that request.
Hall, the founder of the Montana Daily Gazette, posted an article last spring that said Jawort 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.
Jawort said the exchange never happened and sued Hall last September for libel. Since then, Hall has said or posted many 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 horns and said “he’s next,” 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 also has been public challenging and criticizing the judge on the case, calling Best “the most liberal (judge) in the state” and saying he will refuse to wear a face-mask in court or refer to Jawort with a feminine pronoun.
Hall also has said his lawyer, Matthew Monforton of Bozeman, warned him to tone down his public comments about the case, but that he is refusing to do so.