HELENA — A federal judge based in Great Falls plans to step down from active service at the end of the year, allowing President Barack Obama to appoint two new Montana district judges in 2013.
U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon’s decision to take senior status after Dec. 31 comes two months after Chief Judge Richard Cebull of Billings announced his plans to retire from active service on March 18.
There are no nominees for either position and no timeline on filling them.
Cebull and Haddon stepping down at about the same time puts more pressure on the selection process, said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who previously taught at the University of Montana.
“I don’t think it’s an emergency, but you want to move expeditiously to have active judges. I think the time for dawdling is over,” Tobias told the Billings Gazette.
A judge nominated for the lifetime appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, making the timing of replacing the judges even more uncertain.
Of the 874 federal judgeships, there are 83 vacancies and 44 pending nominations, the Gazette reported.
Obama also appointed Montana’s only other active judge, Dana Christensen, who has been in his position for about a year.
Haddon’s plans were posted on 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ website last week. A judge can take senior status when he or she is 65 or older and has at least 15 years on the bench.
A judge with senior status takes a reduced caseload but still draws a salary and can keep a staff of four.
Montana already has three other senior federal judges: Donald Molloy in Helena, Jack Shanstrom in Billings and Charles Lovell in Helena.
Haddon was a lawyer in private practice from 1966 to 2001 and was an adjunct instructor at the University of Montana School of Law.
President George W. Bush appointed Haddon to the bench in May 2001.
Haddon has presided over many cases over the years, including that of a woman who mailed cyanide-laced soda bottles to Sen. Edward Kennedy and one involving a famous paleontologist accused of stealing dinosaur bones.
Earlier this year, Haddon dismissed a civil lawsuit by four readers of the book “Three Cups of Tea” who accused author Greg Mortenson, his co-author David Oliver Relin and their publisher of fraud for alleged fabrications in the book.
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