County attorney candidates tout contrasting backgrounds


MISSOULA, Mont. - The two candidates vying to replace Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg faced off in front of a crowd for the second time this week, this time in a forum organized by the Missoula Press Club.

After the forum, NBC Montana caught up with Josh Van de Wetering and Kirsten Pabst, both Democrats, and we asked them how their backgrounds make them a good choice for Missoula County Attorney.

"I knew that I wanted to be a prosecutor since I was in law school," said Pabst.

She most recently worked in private practice as a defense attorney, and before that served for 18 years in the Missoula County Attorney's office as a prosecutor.

"I think my work there gives me a huge advantage, because I know how every little thing works, and I've seen and identified, and tried to improve on some problems that were there and had been there in the past," said Pabst. "Additionally, working outside the office, I think, has given me an added advantage and a huge perspective on how to better trouble shoot on some of the challenges facing the office today."

While Pabst has longevity, Van de Wetering says he has breadth of experience.

"I've actually done civil cases," said Van De Wetering. "I've actually had a chance to view the criminal justice system from the perspective of the scholar and teacher at the law school. I've had 6 full years in criminal defense in addition to that civil practice."

Van de Wetering has worked as a federal prosecutor for more than 10 years and spent another 5 years as a deputy county attorney. In his resume, he reports he has prosecuted over 1,000 criminal cases and defended hundreds of others.

He's been in private practice since 2008 and also serves an adjunct professor at the UM Law school and substitutes as a municipal and justice court judge.

Pabst points to the many jobs of her opponent as a potential weakness.

"I think a stable work employment history is important," said Pabst. "When you look at somebody who's bounced around from job to job, you have to ask yourself - why?"

Van de Wetering says it's his outsider status that will help him fix what he says was been poor communication inside the office during the time Pabst was employed there.

"I don't have an ax to grind in any of these fights, I don't have to defend my record having been in the office," said Van de Wetering. "I have an objective perspective on everything the office has been through, and therefore, have an objective and broad perspective on what needs to be done."

The Democratic primary election will be held on June 3. For a link to Pabst's campaign website, click here. Click here for a link to Van de Wetering's website.