- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday picked the presiding Montana Workers’ Compensation Court judge over three other candidates to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

Jim Shea, 48, will replace former Justice Brian Morris, who resigned from the state’s highest court after being appointed to U.S. District Court in Great Falls.

Shea has more than 20 years of legal experience, and his understanding and respect for the state and federal constitutions make him well-suited for the Supreme Court, Bullock said in a statement.

“Judge Shea will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Montana Supreme Court. Because of his reputation as a fair and intelligent judge and lawyer, he received broad-based support for his appointment,” Bullock said.

Shea, who grew up in Butte, was appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to the Workers’ Compensation Court in 2005 and again in 2011. Before that, he was an attorney in private practice, most recently a partner at the Missoula firm Paoli and Shea.

He said he would bring the perspective of a trial judge to a court that already includes a former district judge, attorney general, prosecutors and private attorneys.

“There’s a nice mix of backgrounds of everyone on the Supreme Court,” he said.

Shea must be confirmed by the Montana Senate next year and then win an election in November 2016 to retain the seat.

Last week, Bullock interviewed four finalists, including Shea, who were chosen by the Judicial Nomination Commission. The others were Elizabeth Brennan of Missoula, Amy Eddy of Kalispell and Patrick Watt of Great Falls.

Shea graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 1991 and started out as a clerk for U.S. District Judge Paul Hatfield in Great Falls. He later practiced insurance law and indigent criminal defense in Portland, Oregon, then returned to Montana to practice mostly civil law.

Shea said a swearing-in date has not yet been set. He is the only judge on the Workers’ Compensation Court, and he said he must first meet with his staff to work out a transition plan.

Bullock will have to appoint a replacement.

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