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Montana Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker asks a question as Justice Mike Wheat listens during oral arguments on April 12, 2013, at the Dennison Theatre on the University of Montana campus. The arguments in the case involved bison translocation between Montana tribes were part of the court’s annual visit to UM.

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

HELENA – Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat of Bozeman said Thursday he will seek another term on the court.

“I’m in darned good health,” Wheat said. “I really enjoy the job. I really like the people I’m working with. I think I bring a good background to the court, both personally and professionally.”

Wheat said he enjoys working on the different kinds of cases that come before the Supreme Court. As a private attorney, he said he primarily handled personal injury cases and didn’t do criminal defense, property or family law.

“It’s pretty invigorating intellectually,” Wheat said. “The appellate court is so different than the trial court. We make collaborative decisions. There’s something about having the time to think these cases through and reflect on how they impact people.”

Gov. Brian Schweitzer appointed Wheat to the Supreme Court in 2009. In 2010, Wheat won election to the court to serve out the remainder of the term of Justice John Warner, who resigned.

Two Supreme Court justice seats are up for election this year, both filled by incumbents seeking re-election.

Besides Wheat, the other is Justice Jim Rice of Helena, who has served on the court since 2001.

Wheat, 66, worked as a prosecutor for three years in Silver Bow County after completing law school. He then formed a private practice in Bozeman where he practiced law from 1981 to 2009.

He received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree, both from the University of Montana.

He served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a machine gunner in the infantry in Vietnam. He was wounded there and received a Purple Heart medal.

Wheat served four years as a Democratic state senator from Bozeman, winning his Senate seat in 2002.

He finished second in a three-way Democratic primary race for attorney general in 2008, losing to Steve Bullock, who went to become attorney general and is now governor.

Wheat and his wife, Debby, have been married since 1973, and they have three sons.

Chuck Johnson is chief of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau in Helena. He can be reached by email at: chuck.johnson@lee.net or by phone at (406) 447-4066 or (800) 525-4920.

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