District Court judge denies AG Fox’s request to reopen case on background checks

A District Court judge in Missoula denied Montana Attorney General Tim Fox’s request to reopen a lawsuit over the city’s ordinance on background checks, saying Fox failed to meet the elements required to do so.

District Court Judge Robert “Dusty” Deschamps this month deemed the city’s ordinance requiring background checks for most gun sales and transfers within city limits legal, despite Fox’s arguments otherwise.

Deschamps rendered his decision before receiving Fox’s final reply, leading the Attorney General to argue in his latest request that the case was “cut short.” However, Deschamps said the court had enough material on hand to reach an informed opinion.

“The court had all the legal authority it required in rendering its decision,” Deschamps wrote. “The Attorney General concedes this point and offers nothing new that would change the court’s opinion.”

The city adopted its ordinance on background checks on an 8-4 vote in 2016.

That came after City Attorney Jim Nugent issued a legal opinion which found that local governments had the power to adopt an ordinance on background checks to keep “convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents and illegal aliens” from acquiring a gun.

Fox quickly deemed it illegal under state law, however, setting up a legal showdown between his office and the city.

In seeking to reopen the case in his latest request, Fox argued that the court omitted an analysis of a separate case in which Missoula Municipal Court charged a defendant a small surcharge after she pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct.

The Montana Supreme Court ultimately ruled in the defendant’s favor, though Deschamps said the case had “no bearing on the facts” on the case at hand.

“A self-governing municipality, like the city of Missoula, has the power to enact city ordinances so long as the ordinance is not expressly preempted or in conflict with state law,” Deschamps wrote.

The Attorney General’s Office couldn’t immediately be reached for the comment, though a spokesman for Fox said his office will appeal to the Montana Supreme Court. City officials said they’re ready to prove their case once and for all.