Shockley steps down as Judiciary chair

Sen. Jim Shockley, R-Victor, stepped down as chair of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, a day after news broke that he was cited for violating the state’s open container law.

Shockley, who until this morning chaired the committee that’s working on a slate of DUI bills, was pulled over in Missoula on Friday after an off-duty law enforcement officer saw Shockley drinking beer while driving on Interstate 90. Shockley passed a breathalyzer test with a blood alcohol content of .03, which is below the legal limit of .08. He was cited for having an open container and paid the $51 fine on Tuesday.

Shockley is also a Republican candidate for Attorney General.

“I broke the law,” Shockley told the committee. “Considering the emphasis of this committee has been DUI — I wasn’t DUI but it’s related to that — I think it’s appropriate that I step down as chairman of this committee.”

Sen. Terry Murphy, R-Cardwell, will take over as chair and Shockley will serve as vice chair.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed their support and respect for Shockley in an emotional start to Thursday’s meeting.

“I appreciate you accepting responsibility and doing the right thing and for what I think are the right reasons,” said Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, after Shockley announced his resignation.

Sen. Cliff Larsen, D-Missoula, thanked Shockley for sharing with him information and knowledge throughout his time in the Legislature:

“I respect very much how difficult this must be for you, but I want you to know I continue to see you in the same vein,” Larsen said.

Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls, became emotional as he expressed his respect and support of his former law school teacher.

“I don’t think anybody that’s here is an angel. We’re taking on some important public policy. I think each of us is probably a hypocrite in some way or another, and I don’t think that disqualifies any of us from doing our best to take on these important public policy issues,” Blewett said.

Blewett said the committee, which is hearing a raft DUI bills this week, will probably pass many of those measures in large part due to the work Shockley did on the committee.

“I commend you for that,” Blewett said. “I think you’re definitely not an angel.”