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Warner is picked for Montana Supreme Court


HELENA - John Warner, a district judge in Havre for 15 years, was appointed today to the Montana Supreme Court, filling a vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Terry Trieweiler.

Gov. Judy Martz announced her selection of Warner from among three finalists that the Judicial Nomination Commission chose last month.

Warner, 60, is the first district judge on the state's high court since Russell McDonough resigned 10 years ago.

He also is the second Havre resident to become a high court justice. Fred Weber, in whose law firm Warner worked for 20 years, retired from the court in 1995 after 15 years on the bench.

Warner was chosen by Martz over two state Justice Department attorneys, Solicitor Brian Morris and Chris Tweeten, chief civil counsel in the attorney general's office.

A total of 14 applicants sought the Supreme Court opening.

Warner, a Great Falls native and graduate of the University of Montana law school, was first elected judge in 1988 and re-elected to six year terms in 1994 and 2000.

Before that, he was Havre city attorney for four years and was in private practice in Havre for two decades. He began his law career as a clerk for the Montana Supreme Court for a year.

In written comments to Martz, 16 of the state's 42 district judges endorsed Warner for Trieweiler's seat. They said the seven-member court needs the experience and perspective of a district judge, and praised his fairness and integrity.

In an interview today, Weber, who was one of the court's most conservative members during his tenure, cited his former colleague's years as a trial judge as a big plus on the Supreme Court.

''He would bring balance and judgment to the court,'' he said. ''He is willing to balance all aspects of questions and consider them. He doesn't have a fixed position.''

To stay on the court, Warner will have to run for election to the seat next year and then run again for a full eight-year term in 2006, when Trieweiler's term would have expired.

The annual salary of Supreme Court associate justices will increase from $89,381 to $95,493 on July 1. As district judge, Warner was paid $82,606 a year.

Warner is Martz's second appointment to the court. About 14 months ago, she named Helena lawyer Jim Rice, a former Republican legislator, to fill a vacancy. He is the court's most conservative member.

District judges recently named or elected to the court logged relatively little time as justices.

McDonough had been a judge in Glendive before being appointed to the high court in 1987. He spent less than six years on the court before resigning in early 1993.

Diane Barz was a Billings judge before being named to the court in 1989. She resigned about a year later.


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