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Jim Shea

Jim Shea is serving as state workers’ compensation judge 

HELENA – State Workers’ Compensation Judge Jim Shea said he is running for an associate justice’s seat on the Montana Supreme Court in 2014 – if it’s open.

Shea, 47, said he will seek the seat now held by Justice Brian Morris.

President Barack Obama has nominated both Morris of Helena and state District Judge Susan Watters of Billings to be U.S. District Court judges in Montana, but the U.S. Senate has not confirmed them yet.

U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is doing everything he can to push for a Senate confirmation vote on them as soon as possible, his spokeswoman said, but no vote has been scheduled yet.

When Morris is confirmed by the Senate, he will resign his Montana Supreme Court seat to be sworn in as a federal judge.

If that happens and Gov. Steve Bullock fills the vacancy by the March 10 filing deadline for political office in Montana, Morris’ seat will be on the 2014 ballot. If Bullock appoints the new justice after March 10, that seat won’t on the ballot until 2016.

It can take up to 120 days for a judicial seat to be filled – 30 days for lawyers to apply for the judgeship with the Judicial Nomination Commission, 30 days for the public to comment on the candidates, up to 30 days for the Nomination Commission to recommend from three to five finalists to the governor and up to 30 days for the governor to select a justice.

If this process took the maximum 120 days, Morris would need to have been confirmed and have resigned by Nov. 10 to ensure that the justice’s seat would be on the ballot in 2014.

When Morris resigns, it triggers an appointment process to fill the seat. Attorneys must apply with the Judicial Nomination Commission, and Bullock must choose a justice from one of the finalists submitted by the commission.

Shea said he will apply to be appointed for the seat Morris will eventually vacate, even if he can’t run in 2014. Regardless of whether he’s chosen, Shea said, “I would anticipate I would be running for it when it’s on the ballot,” Shea said.

Supreme Court Justices Jim Rice and Mike Wheat face re-election in 2014, but neither has announced his political plans. Shea said he would not challenge either Rice or Wheat.

Shea said he’s been encouraged to run for the Supreme Court by attorneys who practice law before him.

“I think I’ve developed a reputation on both sides of the aisle as being a fair judge,” Shea said. “I call them like I see them. My decisions are borne out by the facts and the law.”

In his eight years as a trial judge, Shea said the Supreme Court has upheld 90 percent of his decisions, 80 percent of them unanimously.

He is a Butte native and a Butte Central High School graduate who received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Montana.

Shea has worked as a clerk to a federal judge in Great Falls, as a public defender in Portland, Ore., and as an attorney in Missoula before he was appointed as workers’ compensation judge.

He and his wife, Kathy, have two daughters, Kate, a freshman at the University of Montana, and Mo, a junior at Helena High School.

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

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