After 37 years of working with laws in Havre, District Judge David Rice announced his retirement effective Nov. 30.
Rice, 64, said Tuesday he and his wife, Linda, have decided this is a good time to end his legal career.
“I have been pondering this for a few months,” he said.
The state Judicial Nomination Commission will now seek applicants to forward to the governor to select a new judge.
Rice said he began practicing law in Havre in 1973, both as a part-time deputy Hill County attorney and in private practice.
The county attorney who appointed him as a deputy, Ron Smith, was running for re-election when he died in a hunting accident in 1986, just a few weeks before the general election, Rice said. Rice won that election as a write-in candidate and was re-elected until he was appointed district judge in 2003.
Rice took the position left by John Warner, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court.
“All those years he had been looking at my cases as a district judge, and then he was still looking at my cases as a Supreme Court judge,” Rice said.
He said many things have changed over the years, including the caseload. When he started in 1973, the court saw about 60 criminal cases a year, Rice said. In 2009, 179 criminal cases were filed in the court. The number of civil cases also have increased.
He said it was not difficult to change from being a prosecuting attorney to being a judge.
“You took a job and you took an oath,” he said, adding that the attorneys treat the judge differently than before and the judge acts differently.
Rice sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Mike McGrath Monday, officially notifying McGrath of his decision to retire. That will start the replacement process.
Under the state constitution, the governor will appoint a replacement to serve until Rice’s term is complete in 2012. The nomination committee will accept applications for the position as judge in State Judicial District 12, which includes Hill, Chouteau and Liberty counties.
To be eligible, the applicant must be a U.S. citizen who has resided in Montana at least two years and been admitted to the practice of law in Montana for at least five years.
The commission must submit a list of three to five nominees to the governor, along with the report of their findings on the nominees. The governor will appoint the new judge from this list.
Rice said he and his wife, who already has retired, decided it was time to take some time for themselves — they did have some urging from their two daughters and their families, he added.
“We want to have our own schedule, that’s how I look at it,” Rice said.
He said he has grandchildren now playing high school and middle school sports in Arizona, and some younger grandchildren in Seattle. He and his wife would like to have more time to see them, Rice said.
And, of course, he will enjoy being able to go to more University of Montana Grizzly football games, he added.
He said he and his wife also like to travel, and they will be using their travel trailer more often.
He said he thought about finishing out his term and not running for re-election.
“I could have waited two years,” Rice said. “It’s better to pick your own time.”