- Associated Press - Friday, February 19, 2016

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - William “Bill” Hunt Sr., a former Montana Supreme Court justice and the state’s first worker’s compensation judge, has died at age 92.

Hunt died Tuesday in Helena, son-in-law Charles S. Johnson confirmed Friday. The family did not give a cause of death.

Hunt served two terms on the Supreme Court, from 1985 until 2001, where he was known for his liberal views. He described himself as a pro-abortion rights, anti-death penalty, personal privacy advocate and an environmentalist.

“I’m a liberal and you guys call me a liberal,” he said in a newspaper interview in 2000. “I think a liberal is a person who has had a lot of experience and is not bound by what happens in the past, but understands the past.”

Hunt was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1923. He dropped out of school and lied about his age to join the National Guard in 1939, according to his family.

His unit was mobilized in 1941, and he served in Africa and Europe during World War II. He stormed Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day.

After he left active duty in 1950, he visited his mother in Butte, who introduced him to Montana’s chief justice, Howard Johnson. Hunt told Johnson that he was thinking of going to law school, but he was worried there were already too many lawyers, Hunt told the Montana Historical Society in 1999.

“He said, ‘That’s always been the story, but remember this: There’s always room at the top,’” Hunt said.

Hunt married his wife, Mary Fassler, in 1952, and graduated from the University of Montana School of Law three years later.

The couple moved to Chester, where he was Liberty County attorney and the town’s mayor. They moved to Helena in 1970, where was director of Montana Legal Services and then director of the state Aeronautics board, according to his family.

Gov. Thomas Judge appointed Hunt as the state’s first worker’s compensation judge in 1975.

“I asked Tom, Gov. Judge, ‘What do you think this job is supposed to be?’ And he said, ‘I haven’t the slightest idea. That’s your problem,” Hunt told the Historical Society interviewer in 1999.

After Gov. Ted Schwinden declined to reappoint him in 1981, Hunt opened a private practice before running for the state Supreme Court in 1984.

He acknowledged that he had conflicting feelings on some issues that came before him. He considered himself an environmentalist, but said it was difficult to see people’s jobs threatened by environmental matters. He told the Historical Society interviewer he felt the same about abortion.

“I’m an absolute believer if a woman and a doctor make that choice the courts or nobody else should interfere with it,” he said. “At the same time, I hate to see it have to happen ever.”

Chief Justice Mike McGrath called Hunt a great public servant.

“He dedicated his life to the people of Montana and we were all better for it,” McGrath said.

Hunt’s wife died in 2009. They had five children.

A funeral Mass will be held for Hunt Wednesday at noon in the Cathedral of St. Helena.


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