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Warner enthused about job on high court

 


The decision to leave Havre did not come easily to newly appointed Montana Supreme Court Justice John Warner.

"It was a very difficult decision," he said Thursday. "I do have some reservations."

Warner, who has served as a district judge in Havre for 15 years, said that although he will miss Havre, he is honored to be selected to serve on the state's highest court.

"I was very pleased with the appointment," he said. "I feel very lucky. I am looking forward to the new challenges it will present."

The Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to approve Warner's appointment to the Supreme Court. Warner was one of 14 applicants for the position. The Senate's approval came shortly after Gov. Judy Martz announced that she had selected Warner from among three finalists.

Martz chose Warner over state Solicitor Brian Morris and Chris Tweeten, chief civil counsel for the attorney general's office. Martz said Warner's experience as a trial judge influenced her decision.

''He believes a judge is to judge the question that's in front of him and not go beyond that,'' Martz said.

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

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.

To keep his seat on the Supreme Court, Warner will have to run for election next year and then secure a full eight-year term in 2006.

He will fill the vacancy left by Justice Terry Trieweiler, who resigned earlier this year. Trieweiler, who anchored the high court's liberal wing, announced in January he planned to leave the court for private practice.

Warner, who described himself as "conservative to moderate," said he is not concerned with politics.

"I don't have a political agenda," he said. "The Supreme Court is not a policy-making body."

Warner will earn $95,493 a year as a Supreme Court justice. He was paid $82,606 a year as a district judge.

Warner said the change from trial to appellate judge will be a big one, but he has sat on the high court in place of various justices many times and knows what the job entails.

It is unclear who will replace Warner as district judge. Warner said that after he is sworn in as a Supreme Court justice, he could ask one of the 42 other state district judges to temporarily take over his case load.

A permanent replacement will be appointed after a selection process that is identical to a Supreme Court appointment, he added.

Warner, 60, is a Great Falls native and a graduate of the University of Montana Law School. He worked for two decades in the law firm of former Supreme Court Justice Fred Weber.

Weber said Thursday he believed Warner will make a valuable contribution to the Supreme Court.

"He would bring balance and judgment to the court," Weber said before the appointment was announced. "He is willing to balance all aspects of questions and consider them. He doesn't have a fixed position."

Warner served as Havre's city attorney for four years before being elected as district judge in 1988. He won consecutive six-year terms in 1994 and 2000.

Warner said he is enthusiastic about serving on the Supreme Court.

"It looks like it will be an adventure," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."

Candidates seeking to replace Warner as district judge must apply with the Judicial Nominations Commission. Commission secretary Randy Bishop said today that applications would not be accepted until the commission had received formal notice that Warner had been sworn in.

No date has been set for the ceremony.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

 

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