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Montana’s Supreme Court races are, by law, nonpartisan, but the 2016 election to replace a retiring justice is heating up early with both candidates holding fundraisers stacked with Helena’s partisans.

University of Montana Law School Professor Kristen Juras announced last month her desire to replace Justice Patricia Cotter.

Juras, whose slogan is “objective & balanced,” is being hosted Wednesday evening at Helena’s Montana Club.

The invitation directed guests to send an RSVP to Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association and secretary-treasurer of the Montana Gas & Oil Political Action Committee.

Other hosts listed on the invitation include Errol Galt, the Montana Republican Party’s national committee member, and the staff of the Montana Group, headed by former Montana GOP Executive Director Chuck Denowh.

In an email, Juras said she supports the nonpartisan nature of Montana’s judicial elections.

“The co-hosts of my Helena event and invited guests cross the political spectrum,” Juras said. “I plan, throughout my campaign, to run a nonpartisan race with significant support from independent, Democratic, and Republican voters. That’s what voters expect in Montana’s judicial elections.”

Juras, 59, has yet to file a campaign finance report, but is playing catch up with her only other competitor.

Cascade County District Court Judge Dirk Sandefur announced his candidacy for the same seat in February. According to his most recent campaign finance report, he has raised more than $46,000.

Sandefur, too, will be raising money Wednesday evening at Helena’s ExplorationWorks! Science Museum. It is not being overtly hosted by a political action committee or lobbyist. However, the event’s online guest list features several notable Democrats and their supporters.

Montana Democrats’ national committeeman Jorge Quintana; Pam Bucy, Montana’s commissioner of labor and industry; and Maggie Moran, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, among others, had RSVP’d to Sandefur’s fundraiser via Facebook.

During a telephone interview Tuesday, Sandefur said he had no knowledge of who was or was not on the Facebook guest list and denied inviting Democrats for partisan reasons.

“I’m looking, frankly, to get as much cross cutting support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents as I can,” Sandefur said. “We’ve tried to indiscriminately invite people across the spectrum.”

Seven states have partisan elections for the state supreme court, while 14, including Montana, hold nonpartisan elections. In 17 states, supreme court justices face uncontested retention elections after being appointed. Twelve states grant life tenure or use various appointment processes.

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Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.

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Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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