Small Town Publisher Challenges Elected Official's Right To Run
October 18, 2023 | View PDF
Following the resignation of Austin Knudsen, who was elected Montana’s new attorney general in November 2021, Roosevelt County Commissioners appointed then deputy county attorney Frank A. Piocos as the new county attorney on Monday, Feb. 1, 2022, to finish out the term. Darla Downs, owner and publisher of the Northern Plains Independent, a community newspaper located in Wolf Point, was ready to turn her attention to other news, but a few of the other county residents had other ideas.
Not long after Piocos began his new office, numerous county residents approached Downs voicing their objections and asking her if county officials had to be residents in Roosevelt County. According to them, that was not the case with Piocos. Having been a publisher for, first, 15 years with The Herald-News and then three more years with the Independent, Downs investigated the claims and the laws related to residency. Piocos lived in Saint Marie, a town in Valley County, and spent a lot of time with a girlfriend in Billings. He had rented office space in Culbertson, which remained unused, but had no residence rented or otherwise in Roosevelt County. According to Downs, after researching Montana law, she found that it appeared that the residency laws only applied to elected officials, not appointed ones. She spoke with those that had come to her and told them nothing could be done until after the election. Then, they would have a case. Downs searched for an attorney to help her in court but found the cost too high. An attorney out of Helena told her it was a $50K case but suggested she represent herself.
The court ruled in Downs’ favor and ruled that Piocos had not been eligible to run for Roosevelt County attorney as he did not own or rent a place of residence in the county. According to Downs, he had never even spent a single night there. The court stripped him of his position. He filed an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court in March, but it was denied with the Supreme Court ruling in Downs’ favor in September.