It’s unclear why Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan requested and received a new judge to preside over the case of Kalispell state Sen. Greg Barkus. It is the right of both the prosecution and the defense to request a new judge, and Corrigan is keeping mum on his reasons. Barkus’ attorney, Todd Glazier, may yet request a new judge to preside over the case.
Certainly, having a Polson judge, as opposed to a Livingston judge, handle the court proceedings presents less logistical difficulties. While the original judge, Nels Swandal of Livingston, was going to do the arraignment via teleconference, and would possibly have had to travel up to the Flathead for the trial, should that occur, all Polson Judge Kim Christopher has to do is hop in her car and cruise 45 minutes north. (The three Flathead District judges removed themselves from the Barkus case because they worked with him on legislation in the 2009 session to add new judges to several judicial districts, including the Flathead.)
But there’s another possible reason why Corrigan may have made the motion for a substitute judge: A Democrat recently passed along some information showing that Swandal is a frequent contributor to the Montana Republican Party.
According to Followthemoney.org, a Web site run by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Swandal donated hundreds of dollars to both specific Republican candidates and the state GOP in 2008.
Swandal contributed to just about every statewide GOP candidate running, all of whom lost with one exception, since 2008 was a tough election year for the GOP. Here’s a quick rundown of Swandal’s contributions:
Roy Brown and Steve Daines, Governor and Lt. Gov.: $50
Brad Johnson, Secretary of State: $100
Elaine Herman, Superintendent of Public Instruction: $60
Tim Fox, Attorney General: $50
Duae Grimes, State Auditor: $50
Alan Olson, Public Service Commissioner: $50
Rep. Joel Boniek, R-Livingston (who did win): $35
The data also shows Swandal giving more than $350 to the state GOP between Nov. 2007 and Oct. 2008.
Swandal did not contribute to any Democrats in 2008, according to this data. Again, there could be any number of reasons why Flathead County prosecutors may have wanted a different judge to handle this case. But considering the defendant is a long-serving Republican state lawmaker charged with three felonies, for the sake of appearances if nothing else, it’s probably better that the judge presiding over the case isn’t a frequent contributor to the state GOP.
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