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The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the confirmation of Gallatin County District Court Judge Peter Ohman on Friday morning, bringing the judge at least one step closer to full confirmation.

State senators championed Ohman’s experience, which includes running a public defender’s office and practicing a variety of law, and his vow not to legislate from the bench prior to all 11 senators on the committee voting to approve him.

“I really liked his energy and I loved his incredible vast experience,” said Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton. “I think this is the type of person that we’re actually looking for for these types of positions and I am glad to be able to support him.”

Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, said that Ohman’s experience paired with his work with people experiencing mental health issues makes him the right choice for the job.

“What I am particularly pleased about his work as a judge is his focus on mental health issues and mental health court, because I do think that’s an area where we need a lot of attention,” Sands said.

The next step for Ohman’s confirmation will be a vote on the Senate floor.

“I appreciate the unanimous support of the senate judiciary committee and I hope the full senate will also support my confirmation,” Ohman said.

Immediately prior to unanimously approving SR 47, the resolution to confirm Ohman, the committee voted not to adopt SR 50, the confirmation of Cascade County District Court Judge Michele Levine, by 7 to 4. Levine, like Ohman, was also appointed by former Gov. Steve Bullock.

Sens. Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, Chris Friedel, R-Billings, and John Esp, R-Big Timber, all said that Levine was too partisan to serve as a district court judge.

Levine served as a Democratic state representative for HD 97 in Missoula from 2007 to 2012.

“I do believe that (Levine) has strong inherent biases … she was not centrist, she was on the hard left of the party,” McGillvray said.

Montana Supreme Court Justice James Rice served several terms as a Republican in the House of Representatives, Sands pointed out.

“I think she made a commitment to her oath of office that she is in a different lane now,” Sands said.

Levine’s appointment was voted down on party lines.

Judge Chris Abbot, who was also appointed by Bullock, has not yet had a vote on confirmation in the Senate Judiciary.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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