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Montana Utility Regulators File Lawsuit Over Public Records Requests

A courtroom gavel.
Best Law/Public Domain

Edit 5/13/20: This article has been corrected to reflect that the suit was filed in Lewis and Clark County.

The body that regulates electric utilities in Montana is asking a court to rule on what information it must disclose to news media outlets after they filed public records requests earlier this year.

Public Service Commission (PSC)  lawyers filed a complaint in late April asking a Lewis and Clark County judge to make the call on what they can and cannot disclose about improper access and release of commissioner work emails.

Multiple media outlets, including YPR, submitted public information requests to find out who may have acquired Bozeman Commissioner Roger Koopman’s unredacted work emails. The issue came under public examination in January when conservative political blog NorthWest Liberty News received the emails from an unnamed source and posted them to its website.

In February, Helena Commissioner Randy Pinocci and then-PSC spokesperson Drew Zinecker talked about the emails on the blog’s podcast.

PSC lawyers in their complaint cite concern for employee privacy and attorney-client privilege and ask the court to decide what information must legally be released to the media outlets.

The defendants include three anonymous PSC employees, the parent companies of the Billings Gazette and the Great Falls Tribune, and Montana State University. Montana State University Billings holds the license for Yellowstone Public Radio. The lawsuit puts all three outlets in the position of having to pay attorneys to argue their case.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.