On Jan. 8 the political struggle surrounding Whitefish’s 2007 city elections appeared to end when Flathead District Court Judge Katherine Curtis denied an attempt to legally restrain John Muhlfeld from being sworn in as a councilor.
County resident Rick Blake and his political action committee, Common Sense in Whitefish Government, brought a suit against Muhlfeld alleging he didn’t live in Whitefish prior to the election, and should therefore be disqualified as a candidate.
Ironically, Blake had to amend his complaint at the last minute when it became clear that his ability to bring the suit would be called into question because he doesn’t live or vote in Whitefish. To remedy that niggling problem, Whitefish resident Mark Van Nyhuis joined the case as a complainant.
Blake’s lawyer called Flathead County residents Bick Smith and Diane Smith (no relation) as witnesses. Both testified that Stephanie Sunshine, Muhlfeld’s fiancée, told them on separate occasions that if Muhlfeld won the election, the couple would have to move into his Whitefish home.
Sunshine lived just outside city limits. Muhlfeld admitted to spending some nights at her home, but testified that he maintained his primary residence in Whitefish. Both he and Sunshine now live in the Whitefish residence.
Blake said he learned of Muhlfeld’s residency issue through Bick Smith.
Blake said he had nothing against Muhlfeld, despite the fact that his PAC—of which he is the sole supporter and member—endorsed other candidates in the City Council election.
“It’s my understanding that on the city council that Mr. Muhlfeld is the most forthright person on the Council,” Blake told the court. “So I have no desire to lose the one good guy on the Council.”
Ultimately, he didn’t. Judge Curtis ruled against Blake’s request for a restraining order, saying she did not believe the case against Muhlfeld would be successful.
Although Curtis did not dismiss the entire case, “For all intents and purposes the case is dead,” Muhlfeld’s lawyer, John Lacey, told the Independent.