Blair Miller

(Daily Montanan) The Montana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a Third Judicial District Court judge from Anaconda on Thursday for violating judicial ethics rules when he made sexual comments about a witness in the hallway of the Anaconda-Deer Lodge County Courthouse last year.

District Judge Raymond Dayton will begin a 30-day suspension without pay on Saturday and will not be able to appear back on the bench until June 12, according to a stipulated agreement Dayton reached with the Judicial Standards Commission in early April that was accepted by the Supreme Court on May 2.

As part of his punishment, he faced the state’s high court Thursday for a public reprimand in Helena.

A person filed a complaint with the Judicial Standards Commission last August claiming Dayton had made comments that were sexual in nature about a witness who alleged she had been stalked by a person in a case that was before his court at the time and in another case, according to court documents signed by Dayton and Judicial Standards Commission Chairman Judge Mike Menahan.

Dayton made the comments – which were not specified in the documents – on Aug. 11 in the public hallway of the courthouse and were heard by other court employees. Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath said Thursday at Dayton’s reprimand hearing that Dayton had made the comments to a justice of the peace after a court hearing.

After an investigation, the commission found he had violated a rule of the Canons of Judicial Conduct that says a judge should at all times act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Dayton agreed to accept the suspension and public reprimand from the commission and to not discuss the complaint with the person who filed it or any witnesses, talk about it with anyone else, or to retaliate for the complaint.

McGrath handed down Dayton’s reprimand on Thursday.

“Your comments were offensive to women and highly derogatory toward a witness in both court proceedings,” McGrath said. “The comments indicate your lack of respect not only for the witness but for the ongoing legal process as well.”

McGrath told Dayton his conduct “undermines the integrity of the office” and did not promote public confidence in the judiciary.

“We have determined that your conduct has eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety in violation of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct,” he said.

With a few witnesses in the audience, Dayton thanked the court and left the hearing. Outside the chambers, Dayton declined to comment to the Daily Montanan on the incident or his punishment.

He told The Montana Standard earlier this month that he had made the comments in the courthouse “in jest” in a conversation he thought was private. He said he accepted the punishment and would “continue to endeavor to perform my duties to the best of my ability.”

Dayton was first elected to the district court that covers Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Granite and Powell counties in 2006, when he defeated Christopher Miller 49% to 41%. In subsequent retention elections in 2012 and 2018, when he ran unopposed, Dayton was retained by 83% and 85% of voters, respectively.

Dayton’s suspension is the first handed down to a Montana judge since 2020, when a Yellowstone County judge was suspended 30 days without pay for admitting to six counts of misconduct related to false statements, accepting political endorsements and making campaign donations to partisan candidates, the Billings Gazette reported.

Six years earlier, another Yellowstone County judge was issued a suspension and censure by the Supreme Court for comments he made about a 14-year-old rape victim and sentencing the perpetrator to 30 days in jail, the Gazette reported.