Election 2020

Mont. Dem. Rob Quist Silent on Genital Herpes in Tax Evasion Case

In this March 5, 2017 file photo, musician Rob Quist reacts after being named as the Montana Democratic Party's nominee to run in the upcoming May 25 special election to fill the state's vacant U.S. House seat.(AP Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan, File)

Rob Quist, the Democratic candidate to replace former Congressman Ryan Zinke, refused to answer questions about his health issues highlighted by court records in a decades-old medical malpractice suit. The October 1994 lawsuit is a current issue because Quist used it as recently as March to excuse more than $27,000 in debts and property taxes that were not paid off until this year. He has also used his own medical history as an issue in the campaign, attacking the Republican health care bill.

When approached on these issues, Quist cancelled an interview. “Like most Montanans, Rob Quist believes a family’s medical history should be private,” the candidate’s campaign spokeswoman, Tina Olechowski, said in an email to The Missoulian. Olechowski canceled a previously scheduled interview with Quist, pivoting from these privacy concerns to attack both the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and the current Republican health care bill.

The health issues surfaced Tuesday, in a report by The Washington Free Beacon’s Brent Scher. Sher reported on the medical malpractice suit filed in 1994 and dismissed in 1996, in which Quist sued surgeon Dr. Roch Boyer over an allegedly botched gallbladder operation.

On Monday, Quist’s campaign announced he would launch a “Hands Off Our Health Care Tour” across Montana. In that announcement, the campaign declared, “After medical complications following surgery, Rob Quist got into debt. Quist paid off his debt, but he believes no one should ever face bankruptcy just because they get sick.” The release also attacked the Republican health care bill, saying it would “end protections for pre-existing conditions.”

In 1994, Quist sued for damages, arguing that Boyer’s medical errors harmed his health, his career, and his relationship with his family. Among these harms, the plaintiff alleged that the malpractice derailed his music career, which he now says was “getting ready to pop” at the time.

But Dr. Boyer shot back, pointing out that Quist entered the procedure with a history of marijuana usage, a pre-existing genital herpes condition, a previous positive test for tuberculosis, and a past meeting with a marriage counselor where he discussed his “failing marriage.”

Quist’s lawyer Monte Beck objected to the use of this history. “Nothing in Rob Quist’s case has anything to do with a pre-existing condition of genital herpes,” Beck argued in a February 1996 filing. “The defendant is not entitled to discuss every personal, confidential, and private medical matter without the consent or waiver of Rob.”

Beck went further, explaining that the plaintiff “has not placed his genital herpes condition at issue in this action, and therefore any testimony directed at his medical records should be striken.”

But Dr. Boyer’s lawyer, Larry Riley, argued that the evidence was relevant due to Quist’s claims of “a variety of problems including lethargy, depression, and lack of energy.” Riley added that “if any of the conditions that Rob Quist is complaining about are caused or contributed to by the things which his counsel is trying to exclude, then they should not be excluded.”

Dr. Boyer’s legal team also planned to dispel Quist’s claims that he was about to launch a successful country music career. Two Nashville music executives were scheduled to explain that the plaintiff’s chances were “extremely unlikely.”

“Given Mr. Quist’s age and choice of the kind of singer he has chosen to be, and the type of competition that exists in the country music market today, it is extremely unlikely that Mr. Quist could have become a country music star, regardless of whether he had suffered an injury,” the executives planned to testify. “He was a man in his forties trying to start a recording artist’s career in a market whose demographics are limited to 18 to 30-year-olds.”

The executives also discussed Quist’s talent. “His singing voice, while pleasant, not without talent, lacks the kind of distinctive quality or identity which would distinguish it from the many other potential recording artists that are available at a moment’s notice in Nashville,” they explained. Without at least a $500,000 commitment from a major record label, his chances would have been “virtually nil.”

For his part, Quist had planned to put forth his own Nashville executive to testify that he had a chance, but the testimony was weakened after Riley, Dr. Boyer’s layer, learned that Quist’s expert had never seen him perform solo. He was also unable to name a single person in Quist’s situation who had ever emerged as a national recording artist after age 44.

One month after Riley refused to exclude mention of Quist’s pre-existing condition, tuberculosis test, and drug use from his case, the two sides agreed that the case could be dismissed.

In March, the Democratic candidate said he is unable to discuss the case in detail because of his settlement with the doctor. Quist has also misstated the date of his surgery, which happened on April 21, 1992. The candidate has mentioned many times that the surgery took place in 1996, when the suit was settled.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Scher questioned Quist’s contention that he was unable to pay taxes and other debts due to the 1992 surgery. During the suit, the Quists disclosed that they brought in $136,412 in income in 1994. Real estate records show that the candidate’s wife, Bonni Quist, has sold over $15 million worth of property since 2006, which would have earned her about $500,000 according to standard commission rates.

In 2007, the year the Quists refused to pay thousands of dollars in property taxes, Bonni Quist was the agent for three real estate sales each valued at nearly $1 million.

Quist has continued his struggling music career, and performed 50 times in 2007. In recent years, he has gotten paid a few thousand dollars per performance, according to a recent financial disclosure. This does not mean he received the same amount in 2007, but it stands to reason that he was bringing in some appreciable income through performing. The Free Beacon also reported that he has been able to secure recurring gigs at a nudist resort in Idaho.

Normally, medical records should be kept private. But given Quist’s history of default on debt and taxes, and his use of the 1992 surgery to excuse it, the case is a legitimate issue, especially as the candidate slams health care as a major issue.

Early this month, Republican Greg Gianforte’s lead over Quist in the polls fell to single digits. Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump’s son Donald Jr. have campaigned for Gianforte in Montana. Ryan Zinke left the seat open to serve as President Trump’s secretary of the interior.

The most recent poll, from Google Consumer Surveys, found Quist ahead of Gianforte, with 49 percent to the Republican’s 42 percent. The election takes place on May 25, next Thursday.