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A look at the 'tough' Montana judge in the gray wolves case

July 21, 2008 | 12:59 pm

Graywolf1_2

We've received a lot of responses on the temporary reinstatement of endangered-species protections to gray wolves in the northern Rockies. Meanwhile, the case challenging the delisting, and determining whether this will become permanent, continues.

U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy of Missoula, Mont., is presiding over the case and will ultimately make that decision. His 40-page injunction order released late Friday was strongly worded in favor of the environmentalists' case argued by Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, has known Molloy since the judge was a third-year law student at the University of Montana and has closely watched his career. Tobias contacted us to fill us in on a little background about Molloy.

The judge has served as one of Montana's three federal judges since 1996. He was in the Navy from 1968 through 1973 and clerked for two years in Billings after law school.

Tobias characterized Molloy as a "firm but fair ... no-nonsense" judge who "puts parties to their proof."

"This is just a preliminary injunction," Tobias said. "He could ultimately change the ruling himself, when he hears testimony, or it could be reversed on appeal."

The case would be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Tobias said some of Molloy's rulings, especially in criminal cases, have been reversed in that court, but "he has a strong reputation among the 9th Circuit judges" and is "highly regarded."

According to Tobias, Molloy's legal specialties before he became a judge were torts and product liability for the plaintiff's side.

They were "the most high profile and difficult cases to win," Tobias said. "Like an automobile that goes off the road and injures somebody. I think he had a big case involving a whirlpool that seriously hurt or electrically injured somebody. He took these really hard cases and often won them for people hurt in accidents on the plaintiff side. I always had a lot of respect for him taking on those cases, they were tough, they were hard to win, the defendants always had more resources, but he was very good at winning the tough cases."

Apparently, Molloy also has a "reputation of being tough on the government to prove its case."

"I think that's maybe what you see here ... 'OK Interior Department let's see your evidence, let's see the data, and let's see if you've met the statutory requirements.' The ESA [Endangered Species Act] is very strict, I think, in the way it's written. I think that's probably what you see there reflected [in the order]. He doesn't mince words. He's tough, he's tough-minded ... he puts the lawyers [and scientists] through their paces, and that's fine."

-- Tami Abdollah

Photo: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "provides no new evidence or research to support its change of course" on gray wolves, wrote U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy of Montana. "Congress does not intend agency decision-making to be fickle." Credit: Joel Sartore / National Geographic / Getty Images

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