HELENA — Mike Black, an attorney in the state Department of Justice, is seeking appointment to be a justice on the Montana Supreme Court.
He is one of 15 attorneys who have applied with the state Judicial Nomination Commission for a vacant seat on the court. Justice Brian Morris resigned from the court in December to accept appointment as a federal judge.
Black, 52, lives in rural Granite County and works as chief of the Civil Services Bureau for the Justice Department in Helena.
A Havre native, Black graduated with high honors from the University of Montana and received his juris doctor degree from Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
Before joining the Justice Department as a senior civil assistant in 2011, Black worked for several law firms and was a solo practitioner. He was an associate and partner in Lukins & Annis, with offices in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was an associate and partner for Datsopoulos, MacDonald & Lind in Missoula.
He has had his own law firm, Rock Creek Legal Services, doing business as Black Law Offices, since 2004.
Asked what qualities he believes are important for a good Supreme Court justice to have, Black said such a justice “starts with a fair mind, compassion and a conscience.”
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“Beyond such a disposition, I believe a Supreme Court justice should have mental acuity, a sense of history of the development of law, an understanding of how to flesh out the present state of the law and good instincts for what the law should be when there are no clear answers,” he said.
A good justice, he said, should be able to motivate and move others and be a skilled negotiator who can explain why when choosing to remain firm.
“Never shrink from controversy, nor unnecessarily seek it,” he said. “Finally, a Supreme Court justice should remain humble and never forget that real persons will be impacted by each and every decision of the Supreme Court.”
Asked why he is seeking office as a justice, Black said he believes he has these attributes.
“I am applying because I believe my background, my experience as a student of the law and lawyer, and my work ethic will serve Montana well,” he wrote. “My father repaired boxcars for the Great Northern, as did his father before him. I was shaped by my childhood in north Havre, such as my paper route between the railroad tracks and the Milk River – and trying to collect the monthly subscription fees from customers who barely had enough money to put food on the table and gas in the car.”
He added, “As a lawyer, I have represented a vast range of clients, from roofers and loggers to magnates and moguls, from small family businesses to Fortune 500 companies, and from Indian tribes to international conglomerates.”
“I have always worked hard, have wrestled with a variety of tough questions, and have good instincts for the law,” he wrote. “But I am still that kid from north Havre. I have the ability to navigate a relationship with six other justices to help ensure our system of justice treats all persons equally before the law.”