About Us

Definition of CASA/GAL

CASACourt Appointed Special Advocate

GALGuardian Ad Litem

A CASA/GAL is an advocate for a child’s best interests during child abuse and neglect proceedings. The CASA/GAL is appointed to a child by the District Court and an attorney is appointed to represent the CASA/GAL in all Court proceedings. The appointment of a CASA/GAL is mandatory under federal and state statutes.

CASA/GAL of Park & Sweet Grass Counties

The Sixth Judicial District serves two counties (Park and Sweet Grass) which cover an area of 4,511 square miles and comprise a population of 19,303. Both counties are considered rural and remote. Both counties lie in one judicial district with a district courthouse in each county. There is one presiding judge, the Honorable Judge Brenda Gilbert. However, the two counties comprising the 6th Judicial District are served by two different regional social service systems.

History of the Sixth Judicial CASA Program

In 2002 the Honorable Judge Nels Swandal called for the creation of a local CASA/GAL program in the Sixth Judicial District. Local attorneys and community leaders established a board of directors and created this program within the District. Local attorneys supported us financially, enabling us to train our initial ten volunteers.

We received our 501(c)(3) status in 2002, and established a board of directors which includes community members from both Park and Sweet Grass Counties. We have since compiled our by-laws, articles of Incorporation, board policies and procedures, financial policies and volunteer policies and procedures. We have “errors and omissions” insurance on all board members, officers, and volunteers.

Read the extended chapter history HERE.

Office Phone: (406) 222-4904



Staff Members

Ann Schilling, Director

Ann M. Schilling graduated from Montana State University in 1973 with a B.S. in Family Life Science and a Secondary Education Degree. She moved to Livingston in 1977 where she and her husband owned and operated an Agricultural Services Company until 2000. During this time Ann raised 2 children and was very active in her Church, Community and Past President of AAUW.

 

From 2002-2004, Ann helped to establish CASA of Park and Sweet Grass Counties, developing board policies and procedures. From 2004-present, she has been the Program’s Director. From 2007-08, Ann served on the National CASA Rural Advisors Committee. She has also been on the State CASA Board and was awarded State CASA Program Director of the Year in 2010.


Marcus Lilly, Board Chair

Marcus moved to Livingston in February 2005 after attending college at MSU-Billings studying Marketing and International Business. Born and raised in Central Montana, he has a great love for sports, animals, the outdoors and working with kids. Marcus is not only a board member but is also a volunteer for Casa of Park and Sweet Grass county. He also is a board member of CASA of Montana. He runs his own hand-forged lighting business. In his free time you can find him spending time with family, friends and his two dogs Khloe and Diesel. He loves riding his horse Ruger, and spending as much time outdoors as possible.


Sharon Sweeney Fee, Secretary

Dr. Sweeney Fee is a nursing informatics specialist and education coordinator at Livingston HealthCare. Sharon works across LHC’s services implementing an electronic health record.


Joe HAnsen, Treasurer

Bio Coming Soon...


Mary Ellen Cremer

Mary Ellen Cremer, a Montana native, has lived most of her life in the state. She earned graduate degrees in Economics and Business Administration and worked for a few years at Deloitte and Touche in Seattle before returning to Montana to reside south of Big Timber on the little ranch where she raised her family.


Alex Rate

Alex is a solo practitioner with Rate Law Office, P.C., based in Livingston, Montana. His practice areas include plaintiffs’ work, criminal defense and estate planning. He is a firm believer in the value that CASA adds to the legal system, and has seen first hand the positive role that CASA volunteers can fill.

Alex graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 2009, and received his undergraduate degree from the University of California-Berkeley in 2000. Originally from Alaska, until recently Alex owned and operated a commercial salmon fishing operation in Bristol Bay.


Peggy O’Neil

Peggy received an R.N. Degree from Northern Montana College in 1975. She worked as a Psychiatric Nurse from 1975 to 1977 at Warm Springs Hospital. From 1977 to present, she works at Livingston Healthcare, located in Livingston, Montana as Infection Prevention and Charge Auditor. Peggy has served on the Park County Health Board and has been a Therapeutic Foster Parent for over 13 years. Peggy has 3 children of her own. In her spare time she owns and operates Happy Feet and Hands Day Spa in Livingston Montana.

 

In Peggy’s own words, “I love working with children, doing what I can to help them along their journey.  A loving home and feeling safe should be the right of every child.  Our youth is our future and so many are missing the basic - food, shelter, safety, HUGS.  CASA is essential in the lives of these children who have lost everything that is familiar to them (no matter how bad) it's still their family and home.  An advocate for them, a special friend to be there through the process acting in the interest of the child gives them a light in an especially dark time. I am proud to be a part of this organization working with youth and ensuring their needs are heard.”


NELS SWANDAL

Wm Nels Swandal graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 1978; he earned his undergraduate degree, with honors, from Montana State University in 1975. Following graduation from law school, Mr. Swandal was accepted into the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Generals Corp and served as a trial attorney, defense attorney and chief as the legal assistance office during his three years of active duty.

Nels then spent seven years with the U.S. Army Reserves, and 20 years with the Montana Army National Guard, retiring as a Colonel and as the State Staff Judge Advocate for the State of Montana. From October 1981-1982, Mr. Swandal engaged in a general legal practice with his mother’s law firm. He was then elected Park County Attorney and served in that capacity from 1983-1994. He then served as the District Judge for the Sixth Judicial District from 1995-2012. He has then recently re-entered private practice with his daughter, Rebecca Swandal.


Ashley Kayser

Bio Coming Soon...


Julie Hill

Julie is the biological and foster to adopt mom of 6 kids including one in heaven. She has 20 plus years experience advocating for special needs children in the educational and child welfare systems in California, Nevada, and Montana. She spent 7 years on staff at the Department of Family Services in Las Vegas, NV working with families and youth in care to provide support and ensure placement retention and permanency. She has an extensive understanding of the child welfare system and its impact on children and families.