Judge is accused of misstatements about legal experience and nanny's employment

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A judge in Billings, Montana, has been accused of lying about her employment of a nanny and overstating her legal experience.

Judge Ashley Harada of Yellowstone County was accused in a misconduct complaint filed Friday by the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, report the Billings Gazette and KTVQ. Harada was elected in 2018 in a close election.

The complaint alleges that Harada had employed “H.W.” as a nanny, babysitter and/or an office worker without reporting the employment to state or federal tax authorities and to workers’ compensation officials.

Then Harada allegedly denied that H.W. was an employee while giving a deposition under oath in the ethics matter.

Harada is also accused of making false or misleading statements to the University of Montana law school to deny admission to H.W. “because of a personal grievance.”

Another count of the complaint claims that Harada overstated her legal experience, which amounted to a false or misleading statement made with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

Harada said she had two years of law experience while a law student under the student practice rule, even though she was not admitted to law practice, the complaint says. She also allegedly gave herself credit for 80 jury trials while she was a clerk for a federal judge and her license was on inactive status.

Harada is also accused of:

• Making a statement about a potential election opponent in Billings Municipal Court “with total disregard for the truth or decorum of the judicial office.”

• Posting on her Facebook page endorsements from the Yellowstone County Republican Party and two political candidates. Ethics rules bar judicial candidates’ use of endorsements “from a political organization, or partisan or independent nonjudicial office holder or candidate.”

• Wrongly stating that she contributed only to conservative candidates, even though her law firm gave $100 to a Democratic congressional candidate. Ethics rules bar judicial candidates from making contributions “to a political organization, or to or on behalf of any partisan or independent office-holder or candidate for public office.”

• Endorsing two candidates. Ethics rules say judicial candidates shall not “publicly endorse or oppose a partisan or independent candidate for any nonjudicial public office.”

Retired Judge Russell Fagg is representing Harada. He told the Billings Gazette that he hadn’t seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific allegations.

“If Judge Harada has made a mistake, she will admit to those mistakes, and where she doesn’t believe she has made a mistake, she will be denying those allegations,” Fagg told the newspaper. “In any case, we look forward to resolving this matter quickly and allowing Judge Harada to continue serving the citizens of Yellowstone County who have elected her.”

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