By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Without much fanfare and to little surprise, state District Judge and former Hill County Attorney David Rice has announced he will make a bid to continue serving as judge in the 12th Judicial District.
In a brief press release on Thursday, Rice said he plans to run for election in the district, which covers Hill, Liberty and Chouteau counties. Rice has served as district judge since August, after he was appointed to replace Judge John Warner. Warner resigned in order to accept an appointment to the Montana Supreme Court.
According to state law, when a district judge doesn't complete his or her term, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election. Rice was chosen by Gov. Judy Martz from among a field of four candidates to replace Warner. He will have to win a primary election in June and a general election in November in order to serve the remaining two years of Warner's term. He could then make a bid for a full six-year term in 2006.
Rice, who served as a Hill County attorney for more than 30 years, said in the press release that he "enjoys the challenges and changes with the new position," and "has found working with all court personnel especially rewarding."
Since taking office, Rice has continued an effort initiated by Warner to provide pro-bono legal services to low-income people. Under the program, eligible people can receive legal advice for civil matters at no charge. Numerous local attorneys have agreed to donate up to 50 hours of their time annually to support the program, Rice said Thursday.
The program started after funding for the Havre branch of Montana Legal Services was slashed, causing its closure in December 2002. The result was that many low-income people had no access to an attorney for things like divorces, Social Security claims, creditor issues and landlord-tenant disputes, Rice said.
After the closure of Legal Services, Warner, and then Rice, worked to coordinate with local lawyers to provide similar assistance to low-income people. Candidates are screened by the District IV Human Resources Development Council and referred to the attorneys.
"With the cooperation of the attorneys in the district, this service will further Montana's effort to ensure equal justice for all persons," Rice's press release said.
Rice became a deputy Hill County attorney in 1973 after graduating from the University of Montana School of Law in Missoula. He held the position for 13 years before he was appointed to head the County Attorney's Office following the death of his predecessor. He spent the next 17 years as Hill County's top prosecutor.
Rice's tenure is believed to be the longest in the county's history. He was replaced by then-Deputy Hill County Attorney Cyndee Peterson.