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Republican confirms on radio show that he will run for office

WHITEFISH - A Whitefish lawyer has announced he is running for Flathead County attorney - more than a year before the primary and 17 months before the election.

Jack Quatman, who with his wife Phyllis Quatman, has handled several high-profile defense cases in the Flathead in recent years, made his announcement on a local radio show Friday morning.

The radio show host, Benny Bee, had heard rumors and called Quatman, who represents Bee in several civil matters, to confirm them.

When asked directly, Quatman, a Republican, confirmed he did plan to run.

"It's time for a change down in Kalispell," Quatman said in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. "The voters are aware of the need for a change, and I think I can do a better job."

Quatman's firm often defends people accused of serious crimes, but he worked as a prosecutor in Oakland, Calif., for 25 years. "I've sent several guys to death row - I don't know if they're still there," he said. "And I've handled a lot of jury trials."

He applied for a job as a deputy Flathead County attorney twice but was turned down for the job both times. That, and victories in two murder cases, were the first steps in a deteriorating relationship between the Quatmans and the Flathead County justice system. Two of the three 11th District judges won't hear cases if the defendants are represented by the Quatmans; judges are brought in from other districts.

Quatman said if he wins, his wife would not work with him in the county attorney's office nor would she represent criminal defendants in the Flathead. "She's my wife and my business partner and we don't do much that we don't discuss and agree on," he said.

Quatman may face incumbent Tom Esch if both men run in the 2002 Republican primary, although Quatman was surprised to learn that the race was a partisan battle. "In that case, I'm a Republican," he said.

Despite the differences between the Quatmans and Esch, Jack Quatman said this is not a personal matter.

Esch took office in April 1992 when Ted Lympus was elevated to the bench. Esch ran on his own that fall and won and was elected to a full four-year term in 1994. He was re-elected in 1998.

On Friday Esch was surprised to learn Quatman was seeking his job. "It's so early," he said. "I'm going to make my decision late this year and announce it in early 2002."

While Esch said he wasn't leaning one way or another, hearing that Quatman wanted the job might persuade him to run again, he said. But for now he's busy being the county attorney, not a political candidate, Esch said.

"I need to attend to the tasks at hand," he said.

Tom Lawrence is the editor of the Whitefish Pilot.

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