BILLINGS (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an internal document related to the investigation of a Billings police department employee suspected of misconduct should be made public.
The Billings Gazette reports that in a 4-3 decision, the high court upheld a district judge's December ruling that the information should be released.
The newspaper sued the city seeking its findings in an internal investigation of credit card purchases made by Deanna Anthony, a senior administrative coordinator with the department. Anthony resigned last November, but no charges have been filed.
The Gazette sought the "due process letter" issued to Anthony because such letters are issued at the conclusion of an internal affairs investigation and usually include information about the allegations against the employee and the employee's response.
Wednesday's order sends the case back to District Judge Russell Fagg with instructions to allow the release of the letter after the names of some people who were interviewed as witnesses are redacted to protect their privacy.
Writing for the majority, Justice Patricia Cotter agreed with Fagg, w
ho said Anthony was a public employee in a position of public trust, and she had no reasonable expectation of privacy in an investigation into the alleged abuse of that trust.
"Because she was being investigated for allegations that she misappropriated public funds, which is the very aspect of her job that renders it a 'position of trust,' the public documents generated as a result of the investigation should be subject to public disclosure," Cotter said.
Justices Brian Morris, Jim Rice and Beth Baker dissented, arguing the decision would limit the ability of employers to investigate allegations of employee misconduct.