Editor & Publisher
Lee Enterprises files suit against Montana Public Service Commission
On December 3, 2021, Lee Enterprises filed suit in Helena District Court, claiming that the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) is seeking large payments for materials that should be part of the public record. According to the petition, a reporter from Lee requested PSC records involving travel, expense reports and reimbursements to the Commission and staff after an audit uncovered questionable practices. In September, the PSC'S legal counsel told the reporter that their search involved 25,000 documents and that staff would require $31,000 to conduct a legal review before turning over the documents.
In a second part of the petition, another Lee reporter requested text and email messages and phone calls from Commissioner Jennifer Fielder, who used government resources to inquire about a COVID-19 patient in a Helena hospital. An investigation showed that Fielder left a voicemail on the hospital system threatening legal action on behalf of the patient, who allegedly had connections to the state Senate. The PSC'S attorney requested a fee to put a hold on the documents and then asked for an additional fee to cover the legal review costs before releasing the records.
The newspaper asks the District Court to order the release of the requested documents without allowing the legal review costs as a condition of disclosure.