HELENA – President Barack Obama on Wednesday nominated a Kalispell attorney to replace U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, who plans to retire this year.
Dana Christensen, 59, was the only recommendation from a selection committee made up of Montana lawyers, and Sen. Max Baucus forwarded the recommendation Obama in February, a spokeswoman for the Montana Democrat said.
Ironically, Christensen was involved in another Baucus recommendation in 2009 that led to some political embarrassment. Baucus asked Christensen to vet candidates for Montana’s U.S. attorney. Christensen selected Baucus’ girlfriend, prosecutor Melodee Hanes, for the position out of six applicants, and Baucus forwarded the recommendation to the White House.
Baucus was criticized for recommending Hanes because of their relationship, and Hanes withdrew her nomination to take a job with the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Christensen said then he was not aware of Baucus and Hanes’ relationship and he felt no pressure to pick her. Baucus and Hanes are now engaged.
Richard Cebull, chief U.S. judge for the District of Montana, gave Christensen a hearty endorsement after Baucus sent the recommendation to the White House, saying then that “there is not a better prospect in this entire state.”
Christensen and Molloy were friends and classmates at University of Montana School of Law in the 1970s. Christensen has been a partner in the firm Christensen, Moore, Cockrell, Cummings & Axelberg since 1996. He previously was an associate and a shareholder at two other Montana law firms.
The White House announced Christensen’s nomination on Wednesday along with five other nominees from around the country. Christensen and the other nominees must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Molloy plans to retire in August, though he will continue to hear cases as a senior judge. He was appointed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton and has presided over several high-profile cases, most recently ruling to keep gray wolves listed as an endangered species in the Northern Rocky Mountain states.
That ruling was nullified when Congress passed a budget rider removing federal protections for wolves in five western states.
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