won that on a very close vote, on double-
jeopardy grounds. You can’t criminally
prosecute and then tax the same activity. It
made sense to only five of the nine judges—
that’s how conservative that court was.”
Goetz and his wife, oil painter Jill
Davenport, spend their summers paddling
on Flathead Lake. They collect vintage cars
and, it could be said, dogs—specifically
Newfoundlands. Goetz and Davenport haul
their three dogs around the state in style, in
the back of a customized Mercedes wagon
they dubbed the “Newfmobile.”
“Jim is a mixed bag,” Davenport says. “He’s
tenacious, he’s intense and yet he’s outwardly
quiet. He’s a cauldron, he’s volcanic. Inside of
that quiet man, he never stops thinking how
he can best do that job. He loves, loves law.
I’ve always said: I have to be with somebody
who likes what they do. If you don’t like what
you do, then you can’t be with me.”
When and if Goetz one day retires, it
seems unlikely that he and his wife, a
Pennsylvania transplant, will decamp to
warmer climes. “Jill loves Montana as much
DIVERSITY IN PRACTICE
A glimpse at Goetz’s varied caseload over the years
Doty v. Montana State Democratic Central Committee (1971)
– Goetz successfully represented a voter seeking action to
require the Democratic Party to abide by the one-person,
one-vote principle in the presidential nomination process.
W.J. Hannon v. Pantzer and Murphy (1974) – The 9th Circuit
ruled for Goetz’s client, the UM controller who blew the
whistle on the athletic department’s misuse of federal
funds to subsidize athletes.
U.S. v. Reiser (1975) – Goetz represented a man who was
drafted to war, and argued that the U.S. Selective Service
System was sexually discriminatory. The U.S. District Court
ruled in his favor, but was overturned on appeal.
Guthrie v. Department of Health and Environmental
Sciences (1977) – Goetz represented author A.B. (Bud)
Guthrie ( The Big Sky) to contest a proposed subdivision in
Teton County. The developers withdrew.
Libby Rod and Gun Club v. Poteat (1979) – The 9th Circuit
affirmed the ruling of an injunction against construction of a
$250 million “re-regulation dam.” It would have inundated
another 7 miles of the Kootenai River, says Goetz.
Country Classic Dairies Inc. v. State of Montana Department
of Commerce Milk Control Bureau (1988) – Goetz argued that
the bureau was in violation of the Commerce Clause and
Equal Protection Clause by regulating the wholesale price of
milk. The 9th Circuit ruled in favor of the bureau.
State v. Moore (1991) – Goetz handled the pre-trial
suppression motion in the case against Larry Moore for the
murder of sheriff’s deputy Brad Brisbin—one of the state’s
first DNA cases.
In re Estate of Kuralt (1999) – Goetz successfully handled a
series of cases involving a holographic will allegedly made
by CBS journalist Charles Kuralt that left property to Pat
Shannon, Goetz’s client and Kuralt’s “longtime friend.”
The implications of the case were parodied on SNL.
Phillips v. General Motors Corp. (2002) – Goetz argued
for a newspaper that sought access to information from a
products liability case that settled.
Polasek v. Omura (2006) – Goetz handled the appeal
before the state supreme court that invalidated the
Montana Grandparent Visitation Law as unconstitutional.
as anybody I know,” laughs Goetz. “I can’t
even get her to take a vacation out of state.”
Goetz’s caseload over the course of his
career is as diverse as it gets, and that
variety has kept his interest renewed for
nearly 50 years. He’s currently working
municipal water rights cases, one on
religious schools’ access to public funding
and a major commercial insurance case,
and he’s filing a reconsideration to the state
supreme court regarding its recent ruling to
restrict medicinal marijuana. “I do a lot of
appeal work,” Goetz adds. “And my appeal
work tends to be on the corporate side
Last summer, he represented Comerica
Bank on a major lending liability case.
“There was a $52 million verdict from a jury
in Butte and I was hired to undo that, and
we prevailed on a very close vote. We got it
reversed. It was a pretty stunning victory.”
Goetz enjoys the intellectual challenge
of appellate work, but still dedicates
time for pro bono. In the ’90s, he helped
establish a public school district for the
Northern Cheyenne Nation in Lame Deer
and, in 2012 on behalf of the ACLU, he
represented six same-sex couples in their
lawsuit against the state for failure to
provide the legal protections promised
in its constitution. “I love the law and I
love learning new things, so I like to move
around. I’ve never been attracted to a kind
of single-purpose practice,” he says.
The willingness to fight for “the little
people” is Goetz’s best quality, says Sister
Mary Jo McDonald.
“He spends as much time preparing cases
for pro bono people as he does for the bigger
clients. He is an individual amongst all others
who stand tall, and is not afraid to battle,”
says McDonald, a nun and activist who fought
alongside Goetz on a class action regarding
Butte’s water system as well as Silver Bow
Creek. “Jim has a big heart, and makes sure
that justice is done for everybody. I believe
that’s his calling. For him, when he takes on
these cases for folks who really have nothing
to pay, he does it as ministry. I would say it’s
ministry to Jim Goetz; it’s not just work.”