Montana Utility Regulator Seeks $2.5M in Damages Over Email Spying

Montana Utility Regulator Seeks $2.5M in Damages Over Email Spying

2021-01-04 15:32:25

An outgoing member of the Montana Public Service Commission has filed a $ 2.5 million damages claim against fellow members of the utility regulator, along with staff members, after his emails were leaked to a right-wing webcast. An internal investigation also found that false police reports had been filed against Roger Koopman.

The legal notice filed with the Administration Department lists Koopman, his wife and daughter as plaintiffs. The agency confirmed receipt of the complaint last week but declined to release the document before it was reviewed for privacy concerns, The Billings Gazette reported.

Koopman's attorney, Chris Gallus, said the complaint involved invasion of privacy, defamation and retaliation. Much of the information in the claim was released in September under a court order after the Gazette, Gannett Newspapers and Yellowstone Public Radio requested the results of internal investigations into hostility in the committee's office.

The emails sent to Northwest Liberty News contained personal emails between Koopman and family members, emails he claimed would not have been released if someone had made a public request through the Public Service Commission, Koopman said.

The claim filed with the state is a precursor to a potential lawsuit. The state has 120 days to respond and potentially negotiate a settlement, or a complaint will be filed with the district court, Gallus said.

The break dates back to at least the end of 2019, when Koopman began contacting the media with concerns about the amount of money fellow commissioners spent on travel. He also questioned the work ethic of some commissioners, complaining that a press release about the PSC delaying a tariff case was incorrect. He sent his own statement saying regulators had approved a $ 6.5 million tariff increase for NorthWestern Energy customers.

In the emails released to Northwest Liberty News in January 2020, Koopman's complaints about travel expenses and his perception that other PSC members were doing little work.

Koopman argued that his emails were leaked to the webcast in retaliation for his statement about the rate increase.

Commissioner Randy Pinocci and PSC spokesman Drew Zinecker appeared on the Northwest Liberty News webcast in February 2020 to discuss allegations that Koopman showed signs of being mentally and emotionally unstable and that Zinecker was concerned that Koopman would bring a gun to the office and take him over. and injure others, the Great Falls Tribune reported at the time.

Pinocci told the Tribune that it was staff concerns that prompted him to file a request for public records for Koopman's emails. He denied having leaked them. The internal investigation found that Zinecker also had access to Koopman's emails and was the likely leaker.

In late February 2020, PSC Staff Attorney Zachary T. Rogala wrote a memo to staff that read: “It is important to note that the Legal Department is aware of no credible threats from Commissioner Koopman to anyone in this office, including Mr Zinecker. "

Investigation results that a judge ordered released in September indicated that the Montana Highway Patrol was called to the PSC office after Zinecker reported fearing. The patrol noted that Zinecker & # 39; dizzy & # 39; and & # 39; excited & # 39; seemed on the prospect of needing additional patrol equipment with the PSC.

The commissioners gave Zinecker paid leave in the spring. Zinecker, who said in September that he was still on paid time off, declined to comment on the investigation at the time. He did not immediately text back on Thursday asking for comment.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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