BILLINGS (AP) – Montana’s Public Service Commission is asking a judge to determine what records it should make public in response to media requests for information about the release of a commissioner’s emails to a right-wing media website earlier this year.
Justin Kraske, the attorney for the PSC, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the utility regulatory board in District Court in Helena on April 30, The Billings Gazette reports.
The lawsuit names the Gazette; Gannett, the owner of the Great Falls Tribune; and Yellowstone Public Radio, which is licensed to Montana State University-Billings. The Tribune and YPR have also filed public records requests with the commission for information about commission emails, including the apparent leaking of Commissioner Roger Koopman’s emails to NorthWest Liberty News.
The lawsuit puts the media outlets in the position of having to pay attorneys to argue their cases, the Gazette reported.
Grady Higgins, editor of the Great Falls Tribune, said the Gannett legal department was reviewing the lawsuit and he declined to comment. The legal counsel for Montana State University did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.
Under the Montana Constitution, people have the right to examine documents or observe the deliberations of all public bodies, except in cases in which individual privacy outweighs public disclosure.
An earlier public records request by the Gazette turned up a Feb. 18 memo by Kraske that indicated the emails provided to NorthWest Liberty News in January were obtained through what “appeared to be an internal PSC breach by someone that has administrator access to the PSC’s email accounts and was not a records request.”
The leaked emails included three personal emails that likely would not have been released in response to a legally reviewed public records request, Koopman has said.
Kraske’s Feb. 18 memo said as the attorney for the commission, he was required to make commissioners “aware of actions taken by any individuals which could damage or harm the credibility of the agency as a regulatory institution or could lead to legal liability.”