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BOISE -- Gov. C.L. Butch Otter defended a friend who served until 2010 as his Department of Administration director, following a scathing Idaho Supreme Court ruling criticizing him for allegedly helping a phone company win a contract.

Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones wrote last Friday that then-Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney appears to have been the architect of the state's effort to bend the contracting rules to help Qwest Communications.

Otter declined to comment on the pending lawsuit, filed by phone consortium Syringa Networks in 2009 alleging Gwartney's agency improperly awarded a share of a $60 million state contract to Qwest.

Justices returned the case to 4th District Court.

However, Otter said Thursday that Gwartney will remain a friend, regardless of what transpired with the Qwest deal.

Gwartney has denied wrongdoing.

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