Montana paper sued by city over open-records request wins in court

Corey Hutchins of Columbia Journalism Review writes:

In January, we brought you the story of The Billings Gazette, which got a tip about potential mishandling of public money at a Montana landfill, followed up by filing a public records request—and found itself sued by the city.

Suing a newspaper simply for asking questions was a notable legal maneuver, but it was also in some sense a nuanced one. The city’s argument leaned on a constitutional provision in Montana that affords citizens a right to privacy. The city argued that releasing the records to The Gazette might expose it to lawsuits from employees who argued the disclosure violated their privacy rights. In their lawsuit, city officials asked a state judge to determine which records the city should release.

Long story short, the judge didn’t buy the city’s argument.

In late January, according to the Gazette, Yellowstone County District Judge Mike Moses ruled the city had withheld public information and had improperly sued the newspaper when it asked the court to assume responsibility for deciding which records should be disclosed. He ordered the city to cough up more than 1,000 pages of documents. The city also agreed to pay about $12,000 in attorneys’ fees related to the case.

Read more here.