Kalispell Federal Judge Prepares for Bench

By Beacon Staff

Montana’s newest federal judge says his upcoming move to Missoula will feel like coming home.

Kalispell attorney Dana Christensen was confirmed for the U.S. District Court by the U.S. Senate last Monday, replacing U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. Molloy will continue to serve while on senior status.

Born and raised in Missoula, Christensen moved to the Flathead Valley in 1981 and became a partner at the law firm of Christensen, Moore, Cockrell, Cummings & Axelberg P.C. in 1996, focusing on civil defense litigation.

“The move is bittersweet. We came to the Flathead 30 years ago and I have been associated with a wonderful firm here, with great partners and lifelong friends,” Christensen told The Missoulian. “At the same time, Missoula is home for me. I was a Lewis and Clark Pioneer and a Sentinel Spartan, so it feels like I’m going home.”

Christensen is expected to be sworn in as a federal judge this week. After a rigorous vetting process, the Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly characterized Christensen as “noncontroversial.” That came as no surprise to many of the judges and lawyers who spoke out on Christensen’s behalf to say he has built a reputation as a fair and ethical civil litigator. His supporters dismissed Republican criticism that Christensen had any political advantage in his nomination by a Democratic president.

“If all judicial nominees were as well-qualified as Dana, regardless of their political party or who nominates them, I don’t think you’d see half of the rancor in Washington that you see now,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who was nominated by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001. “He has through vast experience gained a reputation as one of the finest trial lawyers in the state, and now he’s going to be a fine judge.”

Christensen said he’ll judge each case based on its merits and apply the rule of law even when it means stifling personal beliefs and philosophies.

“This is not a position from which to effectuate social change,” he said. “I don’t think it matters whether you are a plaintiffs’ lawyer, a civil defense lawyer, a prosecutor or a criminal defense lawyer. Once you become a judge you assume a different role. You are no longer an advocate for a client. You are an advocate for justice and applying the rule of law, and that is the fundamental principle.”

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