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Missoula attorney one of first nominees

Sam Haddon doesn't mind waiting a couple more months for the U.S. Senate to confirm him as one of Montana's two new federal court judges.

After all, the longtime Missoula attorney has waited more than 35 years to earn a chance to take a seat on the U.S. District Court bench.

"This is the greatest honor ever to happen to me," Haddon said in an interview last week. "I'm humbled by the opportunity almost more than I can say."

The 63-year-old Haddon, a partner in the Missoula law firm of Boone, Karlberg and Haddon since 1969, was nominated jointly in February by Montana senators Max Baucus and Conrad Burns to fill one of two vacant federal judgeships in Montana. U.S. Magistrate Richard Cebull, of Great Falls, was the other name put forward for nomination by the Montana senators.

Earlier this month, President George W. Bush made Haddon and Cebull his first federal court nominees to be sent to the Senate for confirmation. Haddon said the next step will be for the two nominees to travel to Washington, D.C., to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The entire Senate will then vote to confirm the pair, something Haddon hopes will happen before the end of the summer.

For Haddon, the chance to serve as a federal judge is the opportunity to fulfill a goal he set while working as a law clerk for the late U.S. District Judge William Jameson in Billings, the year after he graduated from the University of Montana law school in 1965.

"That was my first job and Judge Jameson was truly my mentor," Haddon said. "He was one of the finest human beings I ever met. He was the pinnacle of what it meant to be a judge.

"From that point on, I decided that if I ever got the opportunity to serve as he did, there would be nothing better."

Haddon said his year as a clerk for Jameson gave him a unique legal perspective, early on in his career.

"I saw the workings of the court from the court's viewpoint, even before I saw it from a lawyer's viewpoint," Haddon said.

That Haddon ended up in the legal profession is somewhat of a feat in itself. The son of a stock farmer, Haddon was the first member of his family to go to college. He graduated from Rice University in Houston in 1959 with a bachelor of science degree.

Upon earning his degree, Haddon got his first taste of the law enforcement profession when he took a job as an immigration inspector working on the Mexican border. Haddon spent two years on the border before moving on to become a criminal investigator for the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

When he was 25, Haddon and his wife, Betty, who he has been married to for 42 years, packed up and moved to Missoula so he could attend the UM law school.

"We came to Missoula with everything we owned in a 5-foot-by-7-foot trailer," Haddon said.

After spending a year clerking for Jameson, Haddon went into private practice in Billings for three years, then moved to Missoula in 1969 where he has been a partner at Boone, Karlberg and Haddon ever since.

Haddon said he is extremely proud of his career as a trial lawyer, which he is quick to define as "a person who tries lawsuits."

"I found a home in this work. I've enjoyed being a lawyer," Haddon said. "I like lawyers. I enjoy the profession. … The law has been my life. I believe the trial of a lawsuit is one of the most honorable parts of a lawyer's work."

But despite his affection for his work, Haddon said his nomination to the bench means it's time to move on to a new phase of his career.

"To me, being a judge is just a great extension of being a lawyer," he said. "It's an opportunity to give back what has been very generously made available to me."

When Haddon and Cebull take their places on the bench, they will provide much-needed relief for Chief U.S. District Judge Don Molloy, of Missoula, who is the only full-time federal judge in the state at this time. Molloy has been alone on the federal bench since Judge Charles Lovell and Judge Jack Shanstrom took senior status over the past year.

Haddon believes the nominations of the two Montanans will be approved without much question by the Senate, since they were jointly made by the state's two senators, Burns, a Republican, and Baucus, a Democrat.

"I am truly grateful for having received support from both senators. That in itself is somewhat unusual," Haddon said. "By receiving a recommendation from senators from two different parties, I couldn't ask for a better start."

Upon confirmation, Haddon said he will be assigned to cover the Helena and Great Falls divisions of the U.S. District Court in Montana. He said Molloy will remain in Missoula and Cebull will take over in Billings. But he also said he believes the judges may work on somewhat of a rotating schedule, depending on where the demand is greatest.

While he and his wife will have to move, Haddon said they plan to maintain their Missoula home on Gerald Avenue, where they raised their three children and lived for the past 31 years.

"We will get an apartment and be wherever we have to be to get the court's work done," Haddon said. "I've traveled over two-thirds of Montana for the past 30 years. Traveling is not something I shy away from.

"What I hope to do is serve as long as my health permits me. I have no interest in slowing down or retiring. I'm just so excited to have this opportunity."

Reporter Gary Jahrig can be reached at 523-5259 or at gjahrig@missoulian.com.

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