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After a battle, Helena judge confirmed by Montana Senate

Bullock appointee Chris Abbott confirmed 27-23
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Posted at 1:43 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 15:46:46-04

HELENA — In an unusual series of razor-close votes, the Montana Senate Thursday confirmed state District Judge Chris Abbott of Helena, a 2020 appointee of former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock that conservatives had tried to unseat.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee began the day by voting not to confirm Abbott and sending that recommendation to the Senate floor. But the motion to adopt that recommendation failed on a 25-25 vote, and supporters of the judge later moved to bring a resolution to the floor to confirm him.

That move succeeded on a 27-23 vote -- and that vote held after a brief debate on the Senate floor on whether to confirm Abbott, who watched from the gallery. Eight Republican senators joined all 19 Democrats in voting to confirm him.

Sen. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, said Abbott has shown that he's a qualified judge, including his success running a drug-treatment court in Helena.

Conservatives argued that Abbott had shown poor judgment by communicating with the state Supreme Court's administrator, on her state email, about a lobbying effort to get confirmed.

The Thursday vote brought to a close the drama over three state judicial appointments by Bullock in the final months of his final term as governor. Some Republicans in the Legislature have said they want to remake the state's judiciary in a more conservative mold and indicated they wanted to reject Bullock's final appointments to the state bench and give Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte the opportunity to appoint their successors.

In the end, Senate Republicans rejected only one of them -- District Judge Michele Levine of Great Falls, a former Democratic state legislator.

The Senate confirmed Abbott and state District Judge Peter Ohman of Bozeman. Both men will have to run for re-election next year.