Big Sky Roundup

Governor appoints Thomas Lee Bruner to Montana Workers’ Compensation Court

By: - September 5, 2023 3:19 pm

(Photo illustration by Getty Images.)

Gov. Greg Gianforte appointed Helena lawyer and Deputy Clerk of the Montana Supreme Court Thomas Lee Bruner to serve as judge on the Montana Workers’ Compensation Court.

Thomas was born in Butte and worked as a civil litigation attorney there for 19 years after graduating from the University of Montana law school in 1995, according to his application.

He has worked as senior trial counsel at the Helena firm Doney Crowley PC since 2014, but now only works with select long-term clients after he was appointed by Supreme Court Clerk Bowen Greenwood to be deputy clerk in 2019.

“Given his experience and the overwhelming, positive public comment supporting Lee, I’m confident he will make an exceptional judge and serve the people of Montana well,” Gianforte said in a press release making the announcement last week.

Lee Bruner said his legal experience prepared him well for the position, as he said he spent much of his career handling medical negligence cases, which he said were classic liability and damages issues, including physical injury.

“These are the same issues facing workers compensation practitioners, with the added complication of determining coverage,” Lee Bruner said in his application. “Each of these cases required studying and learning the medicine, damage analysis of treatment options, risks, recovery timelines and permanent long term impairments.”

Lee Bruner’s support for workers’ compensation comes in part from his own experience.

In the 1980s, Lee Bruner got injured working in construction with an employer who didn’t have insurance, and after reporting his injury was told to “get the hell out of here,” according to his application. He said as a young farm kid who didn’t know better, he just went onto the next job after healing up.

“The medical bills and the lost wages were a big hit to our young family. If I had known then what I know now, there would have been a different result,” he said, adding one of his workers got hurt decades later but he was covered because of insurance. “I am a big believer in the workers’ compensation program, and I know it protects both workers and employers.”

Lee Bruner said he was previously appointed by Gov. Marc Racicot to the Montana Petroleum Tank Release Compensation Board and to the water Pollution Control Advisory Council by Gianforte. Earlier this year, Gianforte appointed him to the Board of Environmental Review where he currently still serves. Lee Bruner also said he worked as a lobbyist for the Montana Defense Trial Lawyers and previously served as president of the Montana Defense Trial Lawyers Association.

For two years before starting his work as deputy clerk, Lee Bruner worked under now-U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale when he previously served as Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. Lee Bruner said he handled about six cases in that role.

Applicants must receive at least three letters of support to be considered for appointment by the governor, who is still subject to Senate confirmation during the next legislative session.

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