HELENA – Former state Sen. Jon Ellingson of Missoula said Monday he will submit his name for an expected vacancy on the Montana Supreme Court and run for that seat if it’s open in 2014.
Ellingson, 65, will be seeking the associate justice seat expected to be vacated by Justice Brian Morris. President Barack Obama has nominated Morris to be a U.S. District Court judge, but the U.S. Senate has not confirmed him yet. Once Morris is confirmed, he will resign his state judgeship to become a federal judge.
He joins state Workers’ Compensation Judge Jim Shea of Helena who also is seeking appointment to the Supreme Court to fill Morris’ seat and will run for that post if it’s open.
Ellingson, like Shea, said he wouldn’t challenge Justice Jim Rice, who said Monday he’s seeking re-election, or Justice Mike Wheat, who didn’t return calls asking about his re-election plans.
“I take this step after consulting with my family, friends and professional colleagues,” Ellingson said in a statement. “And I do so with the greatest sense of respect for our Supreme Court. While I make this announcement with humility, I believe that my background, temperament and professional experiences would make me a worthwhile addition to the court.”
The Missoula lawyer said he understands the application of law from the perspective of a legislator, prosecutor, defense counsel and individual rights attorney.
“This breadth of professional experiences will provide me with a unique point of view that will inform my judgments as I apply the provisions of our statutes and constitution to the legal issues faced by the men and women of the state of Montana,” he said.
Ellingson, a New York native and Harvard graduate, moved to Missoula in the early 1970s to earn a master’s degree in political science. He received a law degree from Hastings College of Law at the University of California.
He had a general private law practice in Missoula from 1975 to 2004 before becoming an assistant attorney general under Attorney Generals Mike McGrath and Steve Bullock from 2004 to 2010. He then worked as a contract appellate attorney for the Office of the State Public Defender.
In 2012 until Sept. 30, Ellingson was legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.
Ellingson, a Democrat, served two terms in the Montana House and two in the state Senate, where he was majority leader in 2005. He lost a Democratic primary race for secretary of state in 2004.
Ellingson is married to Kathy Owens and has three sons and a stepdaughter.
It is not clear yet whether the Morris seat will be up for election in 2014. If the Senate confirms Morris, and he resigns and Gov. Steve Bullock fills the vacancy by the March 10 filing deadline for political office, that seat will be on the 2014 ballot. If Bullock appoints the new justice after March 10, it won’t be on the ballot until 2016.
It can take up to 120 days to fill a court vacancy.