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John Mercer applies to fill judicial vacancy

by KRISTI NIEMEYER
Editor | April 11, 2024 12:00 AM

Longtime Polson attorney and former state legislator and Speaker of the House John Mercer has applied to fill the remaining office term of former District Court Judge Deborah “Kim” Christopher, who resigned from the bench effective April 5.

Christopher’s term officially ends Dec. 31, 2024, and Polson attorney Britt Cotter is the sole candidate for that position.  

In his application, Mercer cites several reasons for seeking the short-term appointment – the first among them, “a sense of duty.”

“I feel I am best suited to provide an orderly and efficient transition between the resignation of a long-serving judge and the newly elect judge for the benefit of the 20th Judicial District,” he writes.

His appointment, he writes, would give Cotter time to “wrap up his practice and properly campaign for the office.”

He also believes his long career in public service – which also includes stints on the Montana Board of Regents and the Polson School Board – demonstrate “a proven ability to get work done. I think I can clear up existing backlogs that will benefit current litigants and the new judge.”

Mercer also notes that the limited duration of the appointment gives him “the unique opportunity to serve in one of the most important public offices in Montana.”

If appointed, Mercer predicts that his brief time on the bench will be “educational and personally satisfying, as I love to accomplish things.”

Mercer grew up in Polson, graduated from Polson High and earned a degree in business administration from the University of Montana, graduating with high honors. He earned his law degree in 1982 from Northwestern University in Chicago, where he served as articles editor for the Northwestern Journal of International Law and Business.

Mercer has spent 42 years in private practice at the law office on First St. in Polson currently titled Turnage Mercer and Wall.

He was elected to the Montana House of Representatives in 1984 and served eight terms, four as Speaker and one as minority leader. He finished an elected term on the Polson School Board in 2023.

Mercer was appointed to the Montana Board of Regents, which oversees the university system, from 2001-2006, and served as its chair; he was also appointed to the two-year Montana University System Restructuring Review Commission, and has served several times on the Montana Medical Legal Panel.

In his hometown, Mercer has lent time and expertise to the Greater Polson Community Foundation and the Polson Scholarship and Education Foundation boards. He’s received the Distinguished Service Award from the Montana State Bar and a Community Service Award from the University of Montana.

Members of the public can provide letters of support or other comments regarding the applicant through Thursday, May 9, at 5 p.m. via email to nominatejudges@mt.gov, by fax to 406-444-4151, or by mail to Attn: Hannah Slusser, Governor’s Office, P.O. Box 200801, Helena, Mont., 59620.

Letters or other comments submitted will be publicly available and posted at nominate.judges.mt.gov, where Mercer’s application letter is also available. He was the sole applicant for the job as of the April 8 deadline.

Applicants must receive at least three letters of support to be considered for appointment by the governor, who has said he intends to fill the vacancy by June 8.