By Ron VandenBoom
Chris Tweeten and Pat Cotter, candidates for the Montana Supreme Court, offer differing perspectives on the high court and precedent.
Tweeten, a Havre native, who most recently served as chief counsel to Attorney General Joe Mazurek, said in a recent interview that he has a great respect for precedent and sees the current Supreme Court as too willing to "take the law in new directions."
"I have a great respect for precedent and the need to follow precedent," he said. "I think the court is very willing to take the law in new directions, sometimes without much warning to the people who are arguing cases in front of the court (or) the parties who they represent."
Tweeten said he believes that creates a lot of uncertainty about the law and a lot of uncertainty in the lives of people who rely on the law and advice from their lawyers to decide what to do in their daily lives.
Cotter, on the other hand, said she believes the reversal of precedent has been exaggerated because they have had to tackle some high profile cases.
"I know that there have been some reversal of precedent," she said, "but my personal feeling is that it has not been out of line in terms of the number of cases reversed."
She noted that statistics indicate only 9 reversals out of more than 400 opinions a year.
"So I don't think that is extraordinary," she said. "I think this court has tackled some very difficult issues and some very controversial issues. As a result they're in the press a lot."
She added that she did not feel being in the press was a bad thing due to the fact that it helps to educate the people about what the court does and what its function is.
Tweeten said that he had talked to a lot of people across the state who are concerned about the direction the court is headed and that getting some new perspectives on some of the cases that are going in front of the court would be a healthy thing.
"I think I certainly have a different perspective than some of the members of the court," he said. "(If elected) I'm going to be a voice for the idea that precedent ought to be respected."
Cotter is an attorney in private practice in Great Falls who practices law with her husband in the law firm of Cotter and Cotter. She has practiced law for 23 years representing individuals, families and small businesses.
She said she has done a lot of work in appellate courts writing briefs on behalf of clients and "friends of the court" groups.
"I've been encouraged to run by members of the court and I have been encouraged to run by friends and judges," she said.
She adds that she also felt this might be the last chance she has to make a run for the high court due to the fact that except for the two who are retiring, all of the other judges are about her age and election to the court is a life-long position.
Tweeten said he was encouraged to run by a lot of people across the state whom he had known and worked with and who know about his experience.
"I've argued a lot of cases in front of the court in a lot of different areas of the law and I've talked to a lot of people across the state who are concerned about the direction the court is headed."
Tweeten grew up in Havre and graduated from Havre High School in 1970.