HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Two judges will be sworn in to the federal bench, easing a shortage on the U.S. District Court of Montana but leaving vacancies in the state's busiest and highest courts that will take at least three months to fill.
Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris is scheduled to be sworn in on Wednesday and District Judge Susan Watters of Billings on Thursday to the federal court system. U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen is currently the only active full-time federal judge in the state.
Morris, 50, and Watters, 55, were confirmed to the lifetime appointments on the federal bench last week by the U.S. Senate. They are replacing U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon, who semi-retired last year, and Richard Cebull, who retired after a misconduct investigation into his forwarding an email involving a joke about President Barack Obama and his mother.
Morris and Watters will resign from their state judgeships before taking their federal oaths. They will be replaced one at a time, and the process will take a minimum of 90 days, said Montana Supreme Court Administrator Beth McLaughlin.
Both new judges will have to be confirmed by the Montana Senate in 2015, and both positions will be up in the next general election in 2016, McLaughlin said Monday.
Chief Justice Mike McGrath will likely notify the Judicial Nomination Commission of Watters' vacancy in Billings first.
"It's out largest, busiest trial court and going from six judges to five judges is a pretty extraordinary drain," McLaughlin said.
After McGrath notifies the nomination commission of the vacancy, the panel has 10 days to meet and decide how to advertise for the position.
That is followed by a 30-day application process and a 30-day public comment period on the applicants who respond.
Following that 60-day period, the commission can take another 30 days to analyze the comments, interview the candidates and come up with a list of three to five finalists.
Gov. Steve Bullock will then have up to 30 days to appoint a new judge from that list.