Attorney general breaks quickest in 2008 race for Chief Justice

Legal News Line May 2, 2007, 1:00am

Mike McGrath (center)

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath doesn't believe in letting the grass grow under his feet. The day after Supreme Court Chief Justice Karla Gray announced she would not seek a second term as the state's top judge, the attorney general threw his hat into the ring. McGrath is the first announced candidate for the vacant Chief Justice post. Because of term limits McGrath, a popular Democrat who will soon turn 60, could not run for a third term as Montana's attorney general. The party race to succeed him has already begun in earnest. Gray announced Wednesday she would not run for another eight-year stint as Chief Justice after winning a close election in 2000, LegalNewsLine reported recently. During Gray's reign the Supreme Court gained a reputation for liberal activism amongst conservative lawmakers after several decisions went against the GOP. The post of Montana Supreme Court Chief Justice, however, is officially non-partisan. McGrath believes he has the "skills and experience" to improve the Supreme Court's functioning, he told the Billings Gazette after announcing his run. The attorney general has headed the 750-employee state Justice Department since taking office in 2001. "It seems like it takes long periods of time to get opinions issued, and I'd like to work on that," McGrath said. "I think I've got the administrative experience, especially since serving as attorney general, to help improve this." Gray, who turns 61 this month, doubted whether she could sustain "the same energy and dedication" to the job of Chief Justice for a second eight-year term. She spent the last few months repairing fractured relations with the Republican-led House. McGrath told the Gazette that despite identifying himself as a Democrat for the past 25 years, he would have no problem running as a non-partisan candidate due to his non-partisan political style.

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