Havre native, Bozeman attorney announces bid for Montana Supreme Court

Michael Black, a native Havreite, visited his childhood home Monday. Black is running for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court. (Teresa Getten/Havre Herald)

(The Havre Herald) North Havre native and Bozeman attorney Michael Black is running for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.

In an interview with The Havre Herald, Black said his passion for justice goes back 45 years — to the night a Havre boy was shot in the back and paralyzed by a local police officer.

Black was in town Monday to launch his campaign to succeed Justice Laurie McKinnon, who is not running for reelection.

The general election is in November 2020.

Black is the first candidate to announce for the seat on the seven-member court, but Montana Television Network has reported that Mike Minahan of Helena, a district court judge in Lewis and Clark County and former Democratic state representative, is also interested.

Black was an assistant attorney general under Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and Tim Fox, a Republican. He said he liked both bosses, adding “they were different.”

He later worked for Montana Legal Services Association and then became a private attorney in Bozeman.

His only elected office thus far was serving on the Granite County District Hospital Board.

Black was 12 years old when a 16-year-old neighborhood boy he knew, Ronald Boucher, was shot while running away from police after a burglary.

It was around 3 a.m. on Sept. 24, 1974, when Boucher allegedly burglarized Highway Grocery Store, which used to be in North Havre. A Havre police officer authorized to work in the county responded to the incident.

Boucher allegedly told the officer that if he wanted to capture him, he would have to shoot him, and then ran.

The officer, unaware that Boucher was unarmed, hit him with a shotgun at 50 yards, striking him in the back.

As a result, Boucher was in a wheelchair the rest of his life, until he died of unrelated problems in 1995.

In 1976Boucher sued the officer, the city of Havre and Hill County over the incident.

He then signed a stipulation dropping the claim against the officer, but continued the suit against the city and the county. Boucher’s lawyer said the dismissal against the officer was just a courtroom tactic.

The city and county said if the claim against the officer was dropped, then automatically the claim against the city and county would have to be dismissed.

The district court judge dismissed the municipalities’ contention and ordered the trial to continue.

The city and county appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. The Supreme Court overturned the district court and ruled the city and county were right. Thus the claim was dismissed.

But years later, the court ruled in a similar cases that claims against individuals are separate from claims against the employer, Boucher said.

The way the Supreme Court handled that case, it seemed the justices didn’t care about “Ronnie,” Black believes. Rulings that appear so contradictory can be confusing to the public, he said.

“I’m not saying they are wrong, it’s just inconsistent,” he said.

Consistency on the court is one thing Black said he’ll stress in the race to succeed McKinnon.

Montana Supreme Court races are nonpartisan, but in recent years they have had a sharp ideological edge.

In 2012, when McKinnon was elected, there were allegations that her campaign was financed by conservative dark money groups.

Since her election, her votes have been generally, but not consistently, conservative.

But in declining to seek reelection, McKinnon said one reason she was retiring was her reluctance to endure another campaign.

Black said he wants no part of being political.

“The court shouldn’t be political,” he said. “You don’t want politics involved in judicial matters.”

“To say it’s a Democrat or a Republican, that cheapens the process,” he said.

Email John at john@havreherlad.com