Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s sister-in-law Cindy Palmer has been hired by the Montana Department of Justice. Palmer’s husband is Walter Schweitzer, the governor’s brother and unofficial adviser. Palmer started work this month at the Consumer Protection Office with an annual salary of $35,000. She replaced compliance specialist Roy Tex, who left this year to take a job at the new statewide Public Defender’s Office. Attorney General Mike McGrath, a Democrat, hired Palmer as a member of his personal staff, meaning the position was unadvertised and is not guaranteed beyond the end of McGrath’s term in 2008. All statewide elected officials can appoint a certain number of personal staff, known as “exempt” employees. Such workers are exempt from the normal rules that govern state hiring and firing. They can be fired for any reason by the state official who hires them. McGrath can appoint 13. Republicans recently have criticized the Schweitzer administration for hiring two state senators for unadvertised jobs in state government. Sen. Mike Cooney, D-Helena, was hired as head of the Business Standards Division in the Department of Labor and Industry this summer. Sen. Sam Kitzenberg, D-Glasgow, was hired as an outreach officer in the Revenue Department, to help explain its reappraisal of agricultural land. But unlike Palmer, Cooney and Kitzenberg were offered jobs that are governed by the normal hiring and firing rules for state government. Palmer and her family moved to Helena after Brian Schweitzer was Elected governor in 2004. Her husband, Walter, was a key figure in his brother’s campaign and is helping spearhead the governor’s 2008 re-election efforts. Walter Schweitzer, who raises cattle near Geyser and works occasionally as a campaign consultant, has worked on various political issues to promote his brother’s agenda as governor. The Consumer Protection Office investigates alleged violations of laws intended to protect Montana consumers from abusive businesses. Tex came to the job with 25 years experience in criminal investigations and was not a political appointee. According to a copy of Palmer’s resume, which was provided to the Lee Newspapers of Montana by the Justice Department, she has many years of teaching experience, but no experience in criminal investigations. McGrath said he did not speak with either the governor or Walter Schweitzer before offering Palmer the job. He described her hire as part of a reshuffling of the Consumer Protection Office, which had been part of the Department of Administration before the 2005 Legislature moved it to the Justice Department. McGrath said Palmer will not be doing exactly the same things as her predecessor, who specialized in the state’s automobile “lemon law.” “We want to continue that function, but also branch out into general consumer issues,” he said. “She’ll be doing the interaction with the consumers on a variety of issues, lemon law issues, advising people where they can go.” He said he recruited Palmer because she had the skills he wanted for the job. “She is personable, a hard worker and a good writer,” McGrath said. “This is a customer relations job, and she’s very good at that.” According to her resume, Palmer has a degree in English from Montana State University and is certified to teach school. From 1986 until 1989, she taught English as a second language at the Saudi Arabia International School. She has taught English at Chester Public Schools and from 1998-2005 wrote a weekly column for the Great Falls Tribune newspaper. In 2005 and 2006, she also worked at the Montana Democratic Party headquarters in Helena.