- Associated Press - Thursday, April 24, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A Helena judge has less than a week to decide whether the Montana solicitor general is eligible to be a Supreme Court candidate after spending five years on inactive status with the state bar.

The Montana Supreme Court directed District Judge Mike Menahan to make a ruling on Lawrence VanDyke’s candidacy by next Wednesday so the high court can quickly plan for an appeal by whichever side loses in the decision.

Menahan heard arguments Wednesday from attorneys for VanDyke and the five delegates to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention who say Attorney General Tim Fox’s solicitor general should not be on the ballot for the high court.

VanDyke is challenging incumbent Justice Mike Wheat, who has been on the high court since 2010.

The Montana Constitution says a candidate is eligible to run for the state Supreme Court if he has lived in the state for two years and was admitted to practice law in Montana at least five years prior to the election.

VanDyke was admitted to the Montana State Bar in 2005, but went on inactive status in 2007 to practice law outside the state. He was reinstated as an active member to become solicitor general in 2012.

The constitutional convention delegates say VanDyke does not qualify as a candidate because of that five-year inactive stretch.

“An inactive member is prohibited from practicing law in Montana,” plaintiffs’ attorney Mike Meloy said. “Our position is for the portion of time Mr. VanDyke was inactive, he was not eligible to practice law (in Montana).”

VanDyke attorney Rob Cameron responded that inactive members are not considered ineligible to practice law, and the time VanDyke was on inactive status should count toward the five-year constitutional requirement for candidacy.

“I think the people of Montana should have the right to decide who they want on the Montana Supreme Court,” VanDyke told Lee Newspapers of Montana after the hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Cory Swanson, representing Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, said votes for VanDyke in overseas absentee ballots already sent won’t be counted if VanDyke’s name is removed from the ballot.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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