By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Montana Supreme Court Justice - and now candidate - John Warner said his extensive experience in the state legal system is a great advantage to him on the court.
"I know how things work rather than just reading it," Warner said Monday during a campaign swing through his former hometown of Havre. "It gives you an ability to know what life is like in the trenches, so when you're reviewing you can really get a feeling for what happened."
Warner is running for re-election to a position he was appointed to last summer. No candidates have filed to run against him.
A Great Falls native, Warner worked for a year as a clerk in the Supreme Court in Helena after graduating from the law school at the University of Montana, then called Montana State University, in 1967. He then moved to Havre to work in the law firm Weber, Bosch, Kuhr and Dugdale in 1968.
Warner was elected district judge in 1988 and served until Gov. Judy Martz appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2003. Warner filled the seat left by Justice Terry Treiweiler when he retired.
Warner is required to run this year to stay in the position, and faces another election in 2006 to win an eight-year term.
While his experience is a great help, the positions of district judge and supreme court justice are very different, he said.
"It's a lot quieter and more academic and less of the hurly-burly of dealing with people," he said.
Warner said several high-profile issues are likely to come before the court, including a claim that the law passed by the 2001 Legislature overturning a smoking ban in Helena is unconstitutional, claims by same-sex couples that they should receive insurance benefits that married couples receive, and a suit claiming the state's funding of public education fails to meet the standards mandated by the Montana Constitution.
But, he said, all of the more than 800 cases the court hears in a year are important. A prisoner finding out whether he will spend six months in jail or 20 years in prison is certainly significant, Warner said.
"It's all very interesting and each case is very important, but they don't all make the headlines," Warner said.
He said he doesn't have an agenda when he decides cases.
"I follow the law and do my best to interpret the constitution and the statutes as intended," he said.
Warner and his wife, Katherine, moved to Helena last summer when he was appointed to the court. He said serving on the Supreme Court was not an ambition of his when he started in the law profession.
"I just felt maybe I had something to offer and could do some good," he said about applying for the position.
He said he is now ready to spend the balance of the career on the court.
"I just enjoy the law," Warner said. "It's been a great career."