Seven people comprise the entire Montana appellate judiciary. Since Brian Morris became a U.S. District Court judge in December, the state’s high court has been one justice short.
The Judicial Nomination Commission is seeking public comment on the 15 Montana attorneys who have applied for Morris’ seat on the Montana Supreme Court. We encourage readers to speak up on the applicants, and we also remind readers what’s involved in the job of a Supreme Court justice.
All applications include samples of writing, a critical skill for a justice. The justices must do a lot of writing and the decisions they write are law across Montana. There is no state appeal from this court, except to ask the court itself to reconsider. The justices also are responsible for administering the entire state court system, for setting rules for all courts, for setting ethical standards for attorneys and for disciplining lawyers and judges who fail to uphold those standards.
Applicants for the Supreme Court vacancy are:
- Michael G. Black, who works in the Montana Department of Justice, earned his law degree at Cornell University and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1991.
- Elizabeth Ann Brennan, in solo practice in Missoula, earned her law degree at the University of Montana and has been a member of the Montana Bar since 1995.
- Deborah F. Butler works as counsel to the Legislative Audit Division in Helena. She earned her law degree at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1990.
- Carlo John Canty lives in Montana City and is a partner in Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry and Hoven PC. He earned a law degree at the University of California-San Francisco and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1990.
- Amy Poehling Eddy practices law in Kalispell with Eddy Sandler Trial Attorneys. She earned a UM law degree and joined the Montana Bar in 2001.
- Jon Eric Ellingson is in solo practice in Missoula. He earned a law degree at the University of California-San Francisco and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1974.
- Randi M. Hood of Helena works in the Montana Public Defender Office major crimes unit. She earned a law degree at UM and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1975.
- Jacqueline T. Lenmark of Helena works with Keller, Reynold, Drake, Johnson & Gillespie. She earned a UM law degree and joined the Montana Bar in 1985.
- Michael Thomas McCabe of Helena formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He earned a UM law degree and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1976.
- David Michael Ortley, of Kalispell has been a District Court judge since January 2011. He earned a law degree from Hamline School of Law in St. Paul and joined the Montana Bar in 1989.
- James Jeremiah Shea of Helena has been Montana Workers Compensation Court Judge since 2005. He earned a UM law degree and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1995.
- Edmund F. Sheehy, Jr. of Missoula is an assistant Montana public defender. He earned a law degree at Gonzaga University in Spokane and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1978.
- K. Paul Stahl, chief deputy county attorney for Lewis & Clark County, earned a law degree at UM and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1980.
- Erik B. Thueson is in solo practice in Helena. He earned a UM law degree and joined the Montana Bar in 1979.
- Patrick Raymond Watt, of Great Falls, practices with Jardine, Stephenson, Blewett & Weaver PC. He earned a UM law degree and was admitted to the Montana Bar in 1989.
The Judicial Nomination Commission will interview candidates in Helena on April 8 and then must forward three to five nominees to Gov. Steve Bullock, who will appoint a new justice to serve through 2016. Nonpartisan primary and general elections in 2016 will determine who serves the rest of Morris’ term, which ends in January 2021.
Judicial Nomination Commission members are District Judge Richard Simonton of Glendive; Shirley Ball of Nashua; Mona Charles of Kalispell; Patrick Kelly of Miles City; Ryan Rusche of Columbia Falls; Nancy Zadick of Great Falls; and Lane Larson of Billings.
The commission operates in public and posts all comments on applicants on its website.
“Everything’s as absolutely wide open to the public as possible, said Larson, a small business owner and former Democratic state senator. “There’s absolutely nothing backroom about it.”
To comment on the applicants, see the box above and speak up by March 19.