Credit: Courtesy of Greg Gianforte

HELENA — Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte announced Monday that Anita Milanovich will serve as general counsel in his incoming administration, appointing her as the chief lawyer tasked with shepherding his political agenda. 

Milanovich, 40, currently runs her own national litigation firm out of Butte and is a well-known legal force on conservative issues in Montana, ranging from campaign finance and election law to anti-abortion and LGBTQ initiatives. In November, she represented Pennsylvania plaintiffs challenging that state’s presidential election results in a case that was later dismissed. She has also helped represent Gianforte during several of his political campaigns, including his 2017 run for Congress. 

“I’m honored to join Governor-elect Gianforte’s team as general counsel and serve the people of Montana,” Milanovich said in a statement issued Monday by Gianforte’s transition team. “The Governor-elect has articulated a clear vision for leading Montana’s comeback, and I look forward to working with him to get the job done.”

Milanovich did not respond to interview requests from Montana Free Press. 

The staffing choice elicited a range of reactions from lawyers and political observers, many of whom describe Milanovich as an outspoken advocate for conservative causes. 

“[Gianforte] is a full-spectrum conservative, and he’ll get someone who shares his values because she’s a full-spectrum conservative,” said James Bopp Jr. of the Bopp Law Firm in Indiana, which employed Milanovich for several years after she graduated from Valparaiso University Law School in 2004. 

After living in Indiana, where she was also involved with local Republican Party organizing, Milanovich relocated to Bozeman in 2012 with her now husband and continued working for Bopp on several campaign finance cases against the state of Montana, such as challenging limits on personal campaign contributions and contesting the Disclose Act, which increased transparency for donations in state and local campaigns, and which remains a key achievement of the Bullock administration. Milanovich’s predecessor as general counsel, Raph Graybill, played a key role in crafting and defending that policy. 

Since beginning her own practice in Butte, Milanovich regularly represents Republican interests in campaign and election cases. She recently signed on to President Donald Trump’s campaign challenge to Montana’s mail-in elections on behalf of Republican lawmakers Greg Hertz and Scott Sales, arguing that Gov. Steve Bullock was “usurping” the state Legislature by permitting local election officials to use mail-only ballots during the pandemic. A federal judge in September ruled against that challenge.

In addition to campaign finance and election law, Milanovich has a history of opposing LGBTQ civil rights in court and in the state Legislature. In 2017, while still working for the Bopp Law Firm, she represented Montanans for Locker Room Privacy, a group that pushed for a ballot initiative to restrict transgender people from using public bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. The effort failed to secure enough voter signatures to be placed on the ballot. 

During the 2019 legislative session, Milanovich lobbied on behalf of the conservative Montana Family Foundation on a range of bills related to LGBTQ people, religious expression and reproductive rights, testifying in favor of a proposal to sharply restrict abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and opposing an amendment to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, health care and public accomodations. Neither measure became law.

“Anita’s new position as the Governor’s general counsel is the Governor’s gain and our loss,” said Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Lazsloffy in an email to Montana Free Press. “She’s an extremely competent, intelligent and experienced attorney, and we wish her well in her new role.”

Milanovich has also offered her personal legal analysis of LGBTQ issues. In a 2019 op-ed for USA Today, Milanovich expressed her opposition to transgender women, whom she referred to as men, partaking in sporting events alongside other women.

“[T]he entire premise behind sex-specific competition in sports is the simple scientific reality that, in general, males are stronger, faster and more physically powerful than females,” Milanovich wrote. “As a result, if males and females are required to compete together, women will almost always lose.”

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“My heart aches seeing the struggles of males who believe they are females,” the piece continued. “Even so, a just, equitable and compassionate solution simply cannot require the redefinition of what it means to be a girl or a woman.”

As a member of the Gianforte administration, Milanovich’s responsibilities will be wide-ranging. The governor’s general counsel is often responsible for coordinating with lawyers from various state agencies on legal action related to the priorities of the executive office. The governor’s general counsel is usually involved in guiding bills through the legislative session and advising the governor on potential legal challenges that various bills may encounter. 

“She’s honestly ideal for this,” said Bopp, referencing Milanovich’s political instincts. “[At the Bopp Law Firm] our goal is to never say no, if we can figure it out. Our goal is to say, ‘Yes, but do it this way.’ [Gianforte is] going to get a lawyer that will help him figure out how to be most efficient, effective, and be as sound legally as he can, as he tries to implement the policies that he wants to pursue.”

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.