By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The four candidates for the vacant state district judge position were tested by the public during a question-and- answer session in Havre Wednesday night.
About 40 people turned out for the meeting, held in the Holiday Village Shopping Center community room. The local Pachyderm Club sponsored the event.
Three Havre lawyers are seeking the appointment in the 12th Judicial District, which is headquartered in Hill County. The position became vacant after Judge John Warner resigned last month to accept a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.
Gov. Judy Martz will appoint a replacement to serve the remaining 1 years of Warner's six-year term. The nominee will have to run for election after that.
Seeking to replace Warner are Havre lawyers Stephen R. Brown Jr. and Kathleen Richardson, Hill County Attorney David Rice, and Glasgow lawyer Jim Rector.
Brown has practiced law in Havre since 1980. For the past five years he has worked with the law firm of Bosch Kuhr Dugdale Martin & Kaze. He graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in political science before attending the university's law school.
Richardson is the general legal counsel for Northern Montana Hospital. She has practiced law in Havre for 26 years. She graduated from the law school of Creighton University in Oklahoma.
Rice has been a member of the Hill County Attorney's Office for 30 years, serving as the county attorney for the last 17. He is a graduate of the University of Montana law school.
Rector has operated a private law firm in Glasgow for 24 years. He graduated from Eastern Montana College in 1972 with a degree in business. During the mid-1970s he worked in Great Falls as a trust officer with Norwest Capital Management and the Trust Corporation of Montana. He attended law school at the University of Montana, graduating in 1979.
The forum began with each of the four candidates introducing themselves to the audience and providing brief descriptions of their legal careers.
Rice, in his introduction, placed a carpenter's level on the table in front of him. He compared his views regarding fairness and equality to a scene in the movie "To Kill a Mockingbird." In the movie, a white attorney defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the 1930s South.
Rice said he was especially impressed by the closing arguments of Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck, in which he says, "the court is the great level in this society."
Chouteau County Attorney Steve Gannon served as the forum's moderator. He asked each of the candidates several questions, including "Why do you want the job?"
The candidates answered the question differently, though all of them listed their qualifications.
"I believe I have the skills to do a good job," said Rice, who is Hill County's lead prosecutor. "I consider myself to be level-headed and attuned to the facts. I'm humbled that I have been given the opportunity to serve the people of Hill County for the past 30 years."
Rector said he would like to bring some change to the District Court system..
"The ultimate in the legal business is the district court judge," Rector said. "It's the apex of a legal career. I think it would be a great challenge and I'm excited about the opportunity."
Richardson said she was encouraged to apply for the judgeship by a number of colleagues.
"I believe I'm a fair-minded person," she said. "I believe justice delayed is justice denied."
Brown pointed to his experience as a motivation for applying for the position.
"I'm ready for a little bit of a change," Brown said. "It's the next step along the line. I feel with my background and broad legal experience that I am well qualified. It's about public service. You're there to serve the people, not yourself or the attorneys."
Gannon asked the four candidates to name their favorite book. Brown named the Steven Ambrose book "Undaunted Courage," which profiles the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Rice did not name one in particular, instead stating his fascination with history books about World War II. Reading them "brings alive the sacrifice people pay for us to live in this country," he said.
A biography on aviation pioneer Ann Lindbergh was Richardson's pick.
Rector named a trilogy of courtroom novels.
All four said they support the death penalty, with both Rector and Richardson making reference to the recent shooting death of Blaine County sheriff's deputy Joshua Raven Chief Rutherford.
"I believe any punishment allowed by law should be applied if the circumstances warrant," Rice said. "Do I say 'eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth'? No, not exactly, but there are times I feel (the death penalty) is appropriate."
A member of the audience asked to hear the candidates' views on alternative sentencing. All said they supported some form of diversion program or alternative to prison.
Brown said he supported alternative sentencing, especially for juveniles, but that some crimes unquestionably require imprisonment.
"There's some of these people where there's no choice," he said. "They have to be incarcerated. But you have to save that for the most serious - you can't throw everyone in jail."
Richardson agreed, but added she doesn't think "we should throw out the value of giving time" to criminals.
Deferred sentences and deferred prosecutions are some options that are already being explored, Rice said, adding that he supports the idea of rehabilitation.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice asked the four lawyers if they would run for the judgeship if they did not win Martz's appointment. All of them said they would decide that at a later date, but Rector said he would be unlikely to do so.
"It would be very difficult to mount a campaign against a sitting judge from this district" being from Glasgow, he said.