(Daily Montanan) When the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services dropped the requirement that its chief legal counsel be a member of the state bar, it opened the door for the Gianforte administration to hire a conservative heavyweight from Washington, DC, to lead the legal division of the state’s largest agency.
Paula Stannard holds a law degree from Stanford University and served as Deputy General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush and Senior Agency Advisor under President Donald Trump.
In 2016, Politico described her as “Trump’s point person on health care reform.”
Her record as a federal appointee and in private practice shows a staunch ally of the GOP governor’s conservative agenda and the Republican-majority legislature, and she has already helped strengthen such policies in Montana. In September, for example, Stannard defended a controversial emergency rule announced by Governor Greg Gianforte to allow parents of public school children to “opt out” of mask mandates for health, religious or moral reasons.
During the Obama administration, Stannard worked at Alston & Bird, which describes itself as a leading international firm with one of the largest health law firms in the United States. She has been active in the Federalist Society, a legal organization that champions liberty and individual liberty, and she represented a conservative Christian college that filed a lawsuit in 2012 over the Birth Control Act’s contraceptive benefits. affordable care.
More recently, Stannard has been embroiled in a political controversy with the National Institutes of Health over restricting the use of fetal tissue in research. In 2020, leading U.S. House Democrats alleged that political appointees, including Stannard, attempted to block federal funding for medical research based on an ideological agenda.
Stannard did not respond to a voicemail or email last week requesting an interview. Health Department spokesman Jon Ebelt answered a few questions via email and praised the chief legal officer. He did not respond to a request late last week or Monday for an interview with Stannard.
A change made by the state health department to the minimum professional qualifications for chief legal counsel appeared to pave the way for hiring an attorney with Stannard’s background. In 2018, the job posting stated that a qualified candidate for chief legal counsel “must be admitted to practice law in Montana,” but last year the minimum qualification required “admission to the practice of law in Montana, or admission within one year of date of hire.”
In an email, Ebelt didn’t say whether the agency had made the switch in anticipation of hiring Stannard, who led about 450 attorneys at the federal agency, but he did tout Stannard’s experience, “high caliber and exemplary qualifications”.
“She has effectively served the people of Montana for nearly seven months, and her performance has been and continues to be outstanding,” Ebelt said in an email. “We are lucky to have him in our team.”
The Montana State Bar does not list Stannard as one of its active members. However, Joseph Menden, director of communications with the bar, said it was not unusual for attorneys admitted to practice in other jurisdictions to initially work in the state without a license.
“It’s not uncommon for attorneys licensed in other states to come in temporarily as long as there are other practicing attorneys who can approve of what they’re doing,” Menden said.
The Department of Health website lists 16 lawyers in addition to the chief legal adviser and deputy. All attorneys besides the Chief are identified as active members of the Bar in its membership directory, including some who have been active in Montana for more than a decade.
The state administers the bar exam annually in February and July, but Menden said there’s another option for someone with Stannard’s experience: they can ask the Montana Supreme Court to be cleared. to practice in the state. He said it’s common for attorneys who have had an active practice in other jurisdictions and meet Montana’s requirements to be admitted on motion by the court.
“She’s been training for a long time,” Menden said.
Once an attorney passes the bar or is licensed by the court to practice in the state, he said the attorney can remain active in Montana by meeting continuing education requirements, paying dues and fees. license and following Montana’s Rules of Professional Conduct.
Ebelt did not address Stannard’s status with the state bar. The chief legal counsel also did not respond to a request for comment on what attracted her to the post in Montana or whether the positions she has championed in the past in health care are compliant. to work going on at the public health agency here, such as that expanding Medicaid.
In 2009, the Federalist Society listed Stannard as part of a panel discussing the role of government in health care, and in 2010 the organization listed her as a speaker on health care reform: “ObamaCare : What is that ? Is it constitutional? What are the consequences?” On the panel, Stannard argued that “ensuring everyone has access to affordable health care is ‘good, charitable, and morally right,’ according to the Federalist Society.
“But establishing a right to health care in law means there is a corresponding obligation on someone’s part – usually the government – to provide it,” she said. “Once it is accepted that it is the government’s obligation to provide health care, we will probably stop seeing it as a moral and charitable obligation for ourselves.”
On the same panel, she spoke out against universal health care, arguing that Congress should first spell out the rights and obligations associated with it: “American consumers wouldn’t buy a pig in a poke, and Congress should not pass the legislative equivalent.”
In Montana, Stannard seems well aligned with the right to life position of the Gianforte administration and the legislature and is pushing to restrict abortion. A story in Rewire noted that Stannard represented Criswell College in Dallas in the Christian institution’s 2012 attempt to block an emergency contraceptive benefit, alleging that “abortion-inducing drugs” violated the law on restoration of religious freedom. At the time, a district court judge dismissed the case in an order saying the challenge was not ripe, like at least 16 other lawsuits related to contraceptive coverage at the time. (In 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a separate but similar legal fight.)
After Trump’s election, Stannard came to the attention of health policy circles when she was identified as a key player to drive the new president’s health care agenda. Health news outlet STAT quoted Ladd Wiley, who had worked with Stannard as a health and human services attorney and was then in private practice, in a November 2016 article about the presidential transition and the professionals expected to be influencers: “Paula is about to be (like) a smart person like you’ll never meet. At the same time, Stannard came from Alston & Bird, which, according to the story, had earned $4.4 million that year lobbying for health care companies and trade groups, she therefore also attracted criticism. In the same story, Michael Carome, head of the Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, denounced his work for the federal government as hypocritical: “I think it reflects the fact that Trump’s promise to drain the swamp won’t happen. .
Stannard did not respond to a voicemail requesting comment on what drew her to Montana, but the job here likely represents a healthy pay cut for an experienced lawyer who worked at a shoe law firm. white. In 2021, Abovethelaw.com listed the salary of a seven-year associate on the American partnership track at Alston at $350,000+ and a first year at $205,000, noting “big money”.
As part of the 2021 state health department recruitment, the agency updated the salary structure in the recruitment of chief legal counsel starting in 2018. In 2018, the salary range was between $105,992 and $137,830, but in 2021 the salary was set at $116,480. . An online state employee salary database lists Stannard’s salary at $62.50 an hour, or $130,000.
Ebelt noted that a review of the agency showed pay was low and said salaries had been adjusted accordingly: “As part of the largest and most complex agency reorganization in the State, we determined that executive compensation was well below market, and we made the necessary corrections to recruit and retain highly qualified and experienced public servants, like Paula, for Montana.
In response to a request for clarification on when the salary increases took place and whether the position was reposted with an updated salary, Ebelt provided the following: “The position has not been re-advertised. The position had been posted and open for approximately three months, during which time numerous interviews were conducted and the Acting Chief Legal Counsel informed DPHHS management of his intention to accept a position with another agency. Given the critical and urgent nature of this role, DPHHS determined that it was prudent to negotiate within its authority and hire the most qualified candidate then known to the department. »