By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson, who is seeking re-election this year, said he thinks one of the biggest problems the court faces is an ever-increasing caseload.
The more cases the court has to review, and it reviews every case submitted, the longer some have to wait, he said.
"As the old saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied," Nelson said. "No one, including myself, is going to sacrifice quality for quantity. We have to increase efficiency," he said.
Nelson, who was appointed to the court by Gov. Marc Racicot in 1993 and re-elected twice, faces state Rep. Cindy Younkin in the nonpartisan race for the seat.
He said that while the court can't change the number of cases it hears - it has grown from about 625 a year when he was appointed to up to nearly 900 a year - it can do things to speed the process.
One step the court took is to require mediation on most appeals of cases in which damages have been awarded.
"That helps some but not enough," Nelson said. "Historically, that takes care of about 9 percent of cases. It's valuable but it's not a substantial decrease."
Other steps the court has taken include issuing shorter opinions more often and cutting the number of justice conferences from two a week to one a week.
"Those kind of internal things are about the only things we can do," Nelson said.
Nelson, a native of Idaho, joined the U.S. Army in 1966 after graduating from the University of Idaho with honors in business administration. He served three years in Vietnam, then graduated with honors in 1974 from the George Washington University School of Law. He attended the law school at night while working for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C.
Nelson practiced law in Cut Bank for 20 years before he was appointed to the Montana Supreme Court. He was Glacier County attorney for 14 years, and served on the state Board of Oil and Gas Conservation, the state Gaming Advisory Council, and on the Governor's Task Force for Corrections and Criminal Justice Policy.
Nelson also was in a number of service clubs, was president of the Cut Bank Chamber of Commerce and served on the Cut Bank volunteer fire department.
Nelson serves as the Montana Supreme Court's liaison to the Commission on Courts of Limited Jurisdiction and is a member of the Commission on Revising the Code of Judicial Conduct. He serves on or with several other boards and organizations, including the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the state Information Technology Board, and he chairs the Montana Supreme Court's Commission on Technology.
He and his wife, Chari, have been married for 34 years and has two grown children and three grandchildren.
Nelson said that if he's re-elected, he will continue to support and protect the rights Montanans are granted through the state Constitution, including the right to privacy, to free speech, to freedom of information in government, to bear arms, to a fair trial and to freedom of religion.
"I think the Montana Constitution is one of the most, if not the most, visionary and people-oriented constitutions in the United States today," Nelson said. "I am very proud of our constitution and proud to interpret it, support it and defend it."