U.S. District Judge Molloy to step aside

2010-12-23T00:00:00Z U.S. District Judge Molloy to step asideBy LORNA THACKERAY Billings Gazette Helena Independent Record
December 23, 2010 12:00 am  • 

BILLINGS — U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy, author of some of the most controversial rulings in recent Montana history, announced Wednesday that he will be taking senior status in August 2011.

“Senior status” means retirement from active service. Senior judges continue to hear cases, usually with a reduced case load. The announcement, however, said Molloy intends to maintain a “substantial” case load.

No reason was given for the decision by the 64-year-old Missoula federal judge, and he was unavailable for comment.

His decision will create a vacancy in the District of Montana, which has an allotment of three active-duty judges. The president usually nominates a candidate to the U.S. Senate after conferring with senators from the state where the judge will serve.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced Wednesday that he had named a committee of five Montana attorneys to search for a replacement for Molloy whom he can recomment to President Barack Obama. They are James Goetz, of Bozeman; Candace Fetscher, Missoula; Karla Gray, a former chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court, Helena; Milton Datsopoulos, Missoula; and Martha Sheehy, Billings.

Molloy, who practiced law in Billings for many years before his appointment to the federal bench, often seems at odds with Montana’s decidedly conservative bent. He blocked removal of gray wolves from the endangered species list and dismissed a lawsuit filed by Montana and other states that wanted out from under federal gun laws.

He declared a U.S. Forest Service plan for dropping retardant on fires illegal and said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service arbitrarily excluded parts of Montana and several other Western states from critical habitat for the Canada lynx.

And those decisions were just those made this year.

During his 14-year career on the federal bench, he had also blocked logging sales, curtailed use of motorized vehicles in the Gallatin National Forest and otherwise raised the hackles of critics who refer to him as an activist judge.

But Molloy also has earned esteem in legal circles.

“He’s known and highly respected by the judicial community throughout the country,” said U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull of Billings. “He’s served on numerous conferences and committees throughout the circuit. He’s really distinguished himself.”

Last year, Molloy presided over the criminal trial of W.R. Grace Co. and three of its executives who were acquitted of knowingly allowing human exposure to asbestos at the company’s mine near Libby.

Molloy was appointed to the federal bench by former President Bill Clinton in 1996 in consultation with Sen. Max Baucus. At the time, Molloy had a private civil practice in Billings.

A Butte native, Molloy grew up in Malta, where his father practiced medicine. He graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 1976 and then clerked for U.S. District Judge James Battin in Billings.

After his appointment to the bench, Molloy presided in Missoula, and was for a time chief judge of the District of Montana.

“It’s his life,” Cebull said, predicting that Molloy on senior status will have as big a case load as ever. “Don always wanted to be a federal judge.”

Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Shanstrom of Billings called Molloy a “very good district judge and chief judge. He is a very dedicated hard worker.”

Molloy presided over the building of new courthouses in Great Falls and Missoula and computerized the court system in the district.

“I know he’ll take a full case load,” Shanstrom said. “It will just give Montana an extra judge.”

Cebull said it will be almost like getting a judge for free. Whether a judge retires altogether or takes senior status, the pay’s the same, he said.

Shanstrom, who has been on senior status since 2001, still handles about a third of the federal criminal case load in Billings and travels to sit as a visiting district judge in Washington, D.C.

Senior status “is a much more relaxed position,” he said. “You can travel anywhere in the United States and sit.”

“I imagine he will sit on the 9th Circuit by invitation,” Shanstrom said.

Senior judges are sometimes asked to sit in cases heard by appeals courts, he said.

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(17) Comments

  1. Proud Mamma
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    Proud Mamma - December 29, 2010 11:08 am
    I wish Judge Seeley would step down
  2. F-22
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    F-22 - December 29, 2010 8:09 am
    J.R.---- are you admitting that the laws on the books are slanted left, or that there is indeed a leftist bend in the judicial system and that there is some sort of "conspiracy" by the right to ruin everything? I thought lefties didn't believe in that sort of thing? Doesn't a common sense approach fit; even if it is coming from the left? I guess that means I might be a yahoo, puzzled by your logic.
  3. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - December 28, 2010 11:44 pm
    hearditall said: "Thank you God!I hope the next judge in this position has some common sense."

    It sounds like the next judge in this position will be Malloy himself. It seems like this decision of his is merely a minor title change which mysteriously allows the state of Montana to add a fourth U.S. District Judge to the roster.
  4. jlarsen
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    jlarsen - December 28, 2010 11:41 pm
    On what planet does "maintaining a substantial case load" equal stepping aside?
  5. Jack-Ruby
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    Jack-Ruby - December 28, 2010 11:22 am
    Molloy isnt the one writing the laws he is just enforcing them. You yahoos need to take your 'common sense' arguments to Congress. You are all just being hypocrites you just want an activist right wing judge to come in who ignores the law and will rubber stamp all of your knee jerk winger opinions.
  6. 5kranch
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    5kranch - December 23, 2010 7:19 pm
    Sounds like he would be a good judge in some other world. No common sense just like the 9th district judges in Califorina.
  7. 4thgenmontanan
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    4thgenmontanan - December 23, 2010 6:34 pm
    He also fined a Cut Bank rancher $2000 for shooting a grizzly bear in self defense. Rancher J.C. Seewald won his defense was exhonerated and proven not guilty and "fined." Malloy is also a very sore LOOSER!
  8. checolbar
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    checolbar - December 23, 2010 12:30 pm
    Good riddance indeed!
  9. 5thgen
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    5thgen - December 23, 2010 10:31 am
    JSwede said: "That's a huge loss to those of us who believe that the wilderness is not a cattle ranch or a game farm and that nature and her wisdom should not be held captive to the selfish interests of some men."

    I didn't think you could run cattle or have a game farm in the wilderness. Now if the little wolves would just stay in the wilderness, there wouldn't me much of a problem with the these cute furry creatures.
  10. Independent
    Report Abuse
    Independent - December 23, 2010 9:05 am
    Nice misleading headline. Reduced workload. How about reduced salary to go with it. This is early for April 1st.
  11. mtsilvertip
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    mtsilvertip - December 23, 2010 8:03 am
    Could this be a Christmas present to Montana and with Molloy leaving we get a judge who actually cares about Montana?

    Or will Goldman Max appoint another Molloy clone who will work to shut down the state?

    Present or Grinch...

    Time will tell, but hope springs eternal.
  12. Mtnmann
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    Mtnmann - December 23, 2010 7:33 am
    Good riddance!!!!
  13. hearditall
    Report Abuse
    hearditall - December 23, 2010 6:43 am
    Thank you God!

    I hope the next judge in this position has some common sense.
  14. bridge1
    Report Abuse
    bridge1 - December 23, 2010 6:13 am
    Best news I've heard in a long time!
  15. FrankD
    Report Abuse
    FrankD - December 23, 2010 5:53 am
    Sorry, but we the tax payers should not be forced to hire another judge just because of a status change. Or is this a ploy by Malloy and Baucus to get another "Activist Judge" to be appointed in case BHO loses to a conservative in 2012?
  16. caribouboy
    Report Abuse
    caribouboy - December 23, 2010 4:42 am
    Well I came here to post Hallelujah about 40 times and wish all sane people a Merry Christmas. But unfortunately the headline is misleading. He is not truly retiring which is unfortunate for the people of Montana. But I guess it's a boon for the environmental lawyers who will continue to be paid by you and me and propped up by this knucklehead. Too bad!
  17. JSwede
    Report Abuse
    JSwede - December 23, 2010 12:09 am
    That's a huge loss to those of us who believe that the wilderness is not a cattle ranch or a game farm and that nature and her wisdom should not be held captive to the selfish interests of some men.

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