Temple Law alum vies for vacant Montana Supreme Court seat
All Rights Reserved
Great Falls Tribune (Montana)
March 9, 2014 Sunday
SECTION: A; Pg. 1
LENGTH: 1677 words
HEADLINE: 15 vie for vacant state Supreme Court seat
BYLINE: By, John S. Adams
HELENA ¿ Fifteen attorneys from across the state have applied to fill a vacancy on the Montana Supreme Court created when former Justice Brian Morris resigned to take a seat on the federal court bench.
The seven members of the Judicial Nomination Commission are reviewing applications and taking public comment on the candidates.
The public can review the applications online and submit public comment through March 19 at http://1.usa.gov/1g6umto.
On March 21, the commission will select candidates to be interviewed, and interviews will take place April 8 in Helena.
April 9 is the deadline for the commission to submit a list of no fewer than three qualified candidates to Gov. Steve Bullock. Bullock then has 30 days to make an appointment.
The commission is composed of four lay members from different geographical areas of the state who are appointed by the governor, two attorneys appointed by the Supreme Court and one district judge who is elected by the state's district judges.
Current members of the commission include District Judge Richard Simonton of Glendive, Shirley Ball of Nashua, Mona Charles of Kalispell, Patrick Kelly of Miles City, Lane Larson of Billings, Ryan Rusche of Columbia Falls and Nancy Zadick of Great Falls.
Justice Mike Wheat was the last Montana Supreme Court Justice to be appointed to the court.
Former Gov. Brian Schweitzer in January 2010 appointed Wheat to replace Justice John Warner, who retired due to health reasons. Wheat won re-election to the post in November 2010.
Here are brief biographies of five of the 15 applicants vying to fill the current vacancy, along with samples from their application materials. The remaining biographies will be provided in future stories:
Michael G. Black
Length of Montana residence: 40 years.
Education: Graduated from Havre High School, 1980; bachelor's degree, University of Montana, 1986; Juris doctor, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., 1989.
Current employer: Legal Services Division, Montana Department of Justice.
Most important qualities in Supreme Court justice:
A 'good' Supreme Court justice starts with a fair mind, compassion, and a conscience. 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.
The person must work hard and be tireless when diligence is necessary to construct the best argument for a position the justice believes is correct. A Supreme Court justice should be well-prepared for conference and oral argument, and treat other participants with respect. The person must have the ability to clearly and concisely express thought in writing.
A Supreme Court justice should know when it is appropriate in writing an opinion to work outside of the facts of a particular case in order to clarify the law and provide guidance beyond the parties to the case.
The person should have the ability to motivate and move others, should be a skilled negotiator, and should be able to explain why when choosing to remain firm. Never shrink from controversy, nor unnecessarily seek it.
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.
Elizabeth Ann Brennan
Length of Montana residence: 31 years.
Education: Graduated from Our Lady of the Elms School, Akron, Ohio, 1975; bachelor's degree in philosophy, University of Montana, 1980; master's degree in journalism, University of Montana, 1991; Juris doctor, University of Montana School of Law, 1995.
Current employer: Self-employed; sole proprietor of Brennan Law & Mediation.
Most important qualities in Supreme Court justice: "A good Supreme Court justice must be fair, compassionate, decisive, ethical, analytical, and articulate, especially in writing.
Every judge, whether in a trial court or an appellate court, must above all else be fair. Fairness requires an open mind, a commitment to the rule of law, a willingness to listen, and a capacity for being uncertain.
Compassion can motivate judges to think more deeply, consider more carefully, and write more clearly. A compassionate judge is respectful of the impact of her decisions, never losing sight of the fact that someone loses every case.
At the same time, a judge must decide the cases that are before her in a timely manner.
Parties want to win, of course, but often care even more about simply getting an answer so that they can move on.
A leader's words and actions matter tremendously. This is especially true of Supreme Court justices, who are expected to be judicious in all aspects of their lives. A Supreme Court justice must strive for integrity in all aspects of her life.
The ability to analyze layers of law and fact is essential for an appellate court justice. Appellate review is at its core an intellectual exercise, and demands agility and skill in legal analysis.
Finally, a justice must be able to articulate her reasoning to the parties, their counsel, and the public at large. Judicial decisions must be transparent in their logic and thorough in their analysis."
Deborah F. Butler
Length of Montana residence: 52 years.
Education: Graduated from Hellgate High School in Missoula, 1979; bachelor's degree in economics, University of Montana, 1985; Juris doctor, Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, Mich., 1989; Masters of law in trial advocacy, Temple University Beasley School of Law, Philadelphia, Pa., 2007.
Current employer: Legal counsel for the Montana Legislature's Legislative Audit Division.
Most important qualities in a Supreme Court Justice:
I believe that a justice has to have a high level of expertise in the law as it relates to the cases they are deciding.
Since an individual justice cannot be expected to possess this expertise in the variety of topics facing their decisions, they must possess an inquisitive mind, research skills, and sound legal reasoning to gain that expertise.
A justice must have the ability to absorb and analyze information and to appropriate knowledge of the law and its underlying principals, or the ability to acquire this knowledge where necessary. A justice must have integrity and independence of mind, sound judgment, decisiveness, objectivity, the ability and willingness to learn and develop professionally. They must also have the ability to work constructively with others.
A justice must treat everyone with respect and sensitivity and must possess the willingness to listen with patience and courtesy. A justice should have the ability to succinctly explain procedures and reasoning in their opinions. They need to work expeditiously; sometimes under pressure, with the ability to organize their time effectively and produce clear reasoned opinions. They also need to have leadership and managerial skills.