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Billings Gazette - "Attorney General Will Seek Chief Justice Post"

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Location: Helena, MT

Billings Gazette - "Attorney General Will Seek Chief Justice Post"

Attorney General Mike McGrath said Thursday that he will run next year for the Montana Supreme Court chief justice's job, which is being vacated by Karla Gray.

Gray announced Wednesday that she wouldn't seek re-election to an eight-year term as chief justice of the seven-member court.

McGrath, who turns 60 in August, is the first to announce his candidacy for the nonpartisan post. He has been attorney general, the state's chief legal and law enforcement official since 2001, after 18 years as Lewis and Clark county attorney.

"I wish Justice Gray the best in retirement," McGrath said in a phone interview. "She's an extremely dedicated, hardworking chief justice."
McGrath said he wasn't prepared to make a formal announcement but wanted to let people know his plans in light of Gray's decision.

The attorney general said he believes he has "the skills and experience" to improve the court in two areas.

"It seems like it takes long periods of time to get opinions issued, and I'd like to work on that," McGrath said. "Justice delayed is justice denied. People want answers and disputes resolved. That's why they go to the Supreme Court.

"There have been a lot of changes in how the courts are structured. I think I've got the administrative experience, especially since serving as attorney general, to help improve this."

As attorney general, McGrath oversees a Justice Department with 750 employees, including attorneys, forensic scientists, motor vehicle professionals, gambling control specialists, information technology professionals and support staff.

Under his leadership, McGrath said the Justice Department has undergone huge information technology applications, including modernizing the entire Motor Vehicle Division system. With his experience, McGrath said he believes he could help the judiciary branch as it goes through its own information technology changes.

In addition, McGrath said he is particularly interested in the Legislature's plans to appropriate money for drug courts.

"I'll be very interested in working with local communities to make sure those courts work well," he said.

McGrath, who has been involved in a number of facets of the Montana Meth Project, said supporting treatment court programs is one of the most effective things governments can do. "I am very interested in that."

McGrath, a Democrat, said he saw no problems now running as a nonpartisan candidate, as is required of court candidates, after running as a Democrat for 25 years.

He said he approached both the country attorney and attorney general jobs in a nonpartisan way.

"Certainly we work well with legislators from both sides," he said.

A Butte native, McGrath received a business administration degree from the University of Montana in 1970 and a law degree from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., in 1975. He is a U.S. Air Force veteran.

McGrath and his wife, Joy, have two sons, Pat and Chris, and one granddaughter, Alexis.

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