HELENA - District Judge Laurie McKinnon, who lives north of Choteau, said she is running for the Montana Supreme Court.

McKinnon is seeking the seat being vacated by Justice James Nelson, who is retiring from the court when his term expires at year's end. Elizabeth Best, who has a private law practice in Great Falls, and Ed Sheehy, a public defender in Missoula, have already announced they are running for the seat.

Since 2007, McKinnon has been the District Court judge for the district that covers Glacier, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties.

In a news release this week, McKinnon said she is committed to following the rule of law and applying the laws of the state and the constitution fairly and impartially. She said she believes a judge must thoroughly study the law, consider all the arguments and apply the law to the facts. Everyone is entitled to equal access to the law, McKinnon said.

As a judge, McKinnon said she has presided over a broad range of cases, including felony criminal offenses, complex civil litigation, medical malpractice, divorce and parenting disputes, water disputes and eminent domain litigation. Besides handling cases in her own four-county district, McKinnon has assumed jurisdiction in cases across the state, including in 10 other counties.

She serves on the District Court Performance Measurement Advisory Committee to the Montana Supreme Court, the Judicial Education Committee and is a member of the District Drug Court Judges.

In 2010, McKinnon was honored as the judge of the year by the Court Appointed Special Advocates of Montana for her work in cases involving abused and neglected children.

Last year, she wrote and received a $350,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department for the implementation of a drug treatment court within her jurisdiction. This court addresses treatment needs of certain non-violent offenders by holding them accountable for their drug and alcohol use, while trying to change their behavior by the delivering of treatment services in a case management setting, McKinnon said.

Before her election as judge, she worked 10 years as a prosecutor in the county attorneys' offices in Glacier and Teton counties and the Baltimore, Md., city state attorney's office. She also has more than 10 years experience as a criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels.

In her private practice, McKinnon said she had handled a wide variety of civil litigation, including representing people with insufficient income and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

McKinnon is a native of Baltimore who moved to Cut Bank from Maryland in 1995 when her husband, Dr. Gary L. Pannabecker, took a job with the U.S. Public Health Service. He is a captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and chief dental officer for the Blackfeet Indian Health Service dental program.

She has an undergraduate degree from Goucher College in Towson, Md., and a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law. McKinnon is working on a master's and doctorate in judicial studies from the University of Nevada and the National Judicial College in Reno.

She and her husband have four children.


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