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HELENA - Livingston District Judge Nels Swandal has a familiar name running his campaign for the Montana Supreme Court: Dustin Frost, the former state director of Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg.

Swandal is one of two people running to fill a high court seat that will be vacated by Justice William Leaphart, who announced he is retiring at the end of the year and will not seek another eight-year court term.

"I'll be doing a little bit of everything," Frost said from his Billings office Monday. "I will be working on everything from setting up events, to getting out and talking to people."

Frost ran Rehberg's successful 2004 and 2006 congressional campaigns.

Swandal, 56, is a district court judge in Livingston and, if elected, would be the only member of the Montana Supreme Court who has served as a district judge. He previously practiced law with his mother in the firm of Swandal, Douglass and Swandal, served as a Park County public defender and was elected Park County attorney from 1983 through 1994.

Frost was seriously injured last August when Rehberg and others were in a boat piloted by state Sen. Greg Barkus, R-Kalispell, that hit the shoreline of Flathead Lake. After spending more than a week in a coma, Frost eventually recovered and rejoined Rehberg's staff as state director.

Meanwhile, Swandal initially was named to preside over the court case involving felony charges against Barkus after three Flathead County judges stepped down, citing conflict of interest.

Prosecutors later objected to the choice of Swandal, without giving a reason, and District Judge John McKeon of Malta was assigned to the case in November.

Frost resigned from Rehberg's staff March 1 to start his own political consulting firm. Swandal is one of his first clients.

"It's exciting," Frost said.

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Jennifer McKee may be reached at (406) 447-4069 or at jennifer.mckee@lee.net.

 

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