Montana Supreme Court candidates (left to right): Ingrid Gustafson, Mike Lamb, Russ McElyea

(HELENA) After considering six applicants to fill an open seat on the Montana Supreme Court, the state’s Judicial Nomination Commission has selected its top three choices.

The commission announced last week that Ingrid Gustafson, Mike Lamb and Russ McElyea would be finalists for the court. Gov. Steve Bullock will have until Dec. 16 to appoint one of them to the court.

Gustafson has been a district court judge in Billings since 2004, when she was appointed by former Gov. Judy Martz. Prior to that, she spent more than a decade as an attorney in private practice.

As a judge, Gustafson served on several working groups dealing with legal reform. Most recently, she was part of Montana’s Commission on Sentencing, which proposed a number of changes to reduce prison populations, corrections spending and repeat offenses.

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Mike Lamb has spent more than 35 years as an attorney in private practice, first in Great Falls and then in Helena. He is currently a partner with the firm Lamb and Carey, specializing in personal injury law.

Lamb has been a leader with the Montana Trial Lawyers Association, previously serving on the board of directors and as president. He has also been a director with the State Bar’s Montana Justice Foundation, which distributes grants to help people who need access to civil legal assistance.

McElyea is the chief judge of the Montana Water Court, responsible for handling disputes over water rights. He joined the court as an associate judge in 2012 before being promoted to chief judge the next year.

Before serving on the Water Court, McElyea spent 17 years with a Bozeman law firm, before becoming general counsel for the Moonlight Basin Resort in Big Sky. In 2008, he was named Moonlight Basin’s chief operating officer, overseeing about 60 employees in the summer and about 400 in the winter.

The three candidates are vying to replace Justice Mike Wheat on the Supreme Court. Wheat, who has been on the court since 2010, announced in July that he would retire at the end of the year.

Whichever candidate is appointed will have to run for election in November 2018, to fill the remaining four years of Wheat’s term.