Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Cavan joined the Montana federal bench as a U.S. magistrate judge in Billings on Thursday, taking the oath of office before a packed courtroom of family, friends and colleagues.
Cavan’s three children helped him put on his new black robe as the audience applauded.
In brief remarks, Cavan thanked everyone for attending the ceremony and said he was excited to start his new career.
Cavan also pledged to work to gain the respect of those who will appear in his courtroom, saying that respect “has to be earned.”
But judging from the remarks of Cavan’s former bosses, Cavan already is well respected in Montana’s legal community and has a reputation as a hard-working, fair-minded, smart lawyer with the depth of experience that will serve him well as a federal judge.
“Tim has no enemies in the legal profession,” Chief U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula said in introductory remarks as he presided over the ceremony.
“We have tremendous confidence in you,” he said.
Cavan was sworn into office by U.S. District Judge Susan Watters. He is replacing U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby, who resigned after serving on the bench for 14 years. Ostby’s last day was Wednesday.
Since 2002, Cavan, 58, has worked as an assistant U.S. attorney defending civil claims, mostly involving medical malpractice.
Before working to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Cavan worked from 1996 to 2002 for the Federal Defenders of Montana, representing indigent clients charged with crimes.
Early in his career, Cavan worked in private practice in Billings, doing plaintiff’s work, representing small businesses and individuals and representing indigent criminal defendants.
Cavan told the audience that the late U.S. District Judge James F. Battin and retired U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom made the biggest impression on him as he began working in federal court.
He credited Battin and Shanstrom with showing him “what judicial temperament is” and why they were so respected. Cavan said he never heard either judge get angry, raise their voices or belittle anyone. “They always treated everyone with respect,” he said.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Cavan reached over and shook Shanstrom’s hand. Shanstrom was seated among all of Montana’s judicial panel for the ceremony.
Cavan also acknowledged his father, John Cavan, who died in 2009. Cavan, who practiced law with his father for 12 years, said his father taught him about being a professional and officer of the court, his duties to his clients and to treat people with respect and courtesy.
And he called his time with the Federal Defenders “probably the most important seven years of my career.”
Chief Federal Defender Tony Gallagher, Cavan’s former boss, said he immediately agreed to Cavan’s request to make a few comments at his investiture ceremony but that it didn’t really sink in until he received the formal invitation.
Gallagher noted Cavan’s personal attributes, including his good humor, loyalty, love of family, commitment to justice and his “James Earl Jones voice. You know he is first and foremost a good man.”
Gallagher said he saw Cavan work tirelessly for the poor, take his work “unbelievably seriously” and called him a “scrupulously honest man.”
Cavan, Gallagher continued, is someone “who can make a hard call and get it right.”
Montana U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter also praised Cavan, noting he is the first assistant attorney to become a federal judge in Montana.
“The court’s gain is our loss,” Cotter said.
Cotter said Cavan is the hardest-working lawyer he has ever met and said Cavan always took the toughest and most complex cases. “This is not by accident,” he said.
Cavan, Cotter continued, is “honest with the law and honest with the facts.”
Becoming a judge is “an honor that is well deserved,” Cotter told Cavan. “We’re going to miss you.”
As magistrate judge, Cavan will hear both civil and criminal cases. In criminal cases, magistrate judges have jurisdiction in misdemeanor cases, conduct arraignments and initial hearings in felony cases. They can also hear felony cases with consent of the parties and can mediate civil case settlements.
Magistrate judges are appointed by a majority of the district court judges. Full-time magistrate judges serve eight-year terms. Montana has three full-time magistrate judge seats, located in Billings, Missoula and Great Falls.
Cavan was recommended for the job from a group of finalists complied by a court-appointed merit selection panel of lawyers and non-lawyers.