Montana justices reject newspaper's request for lawyer disciplinary records

Chris Rizo Dec. 3, 2008, 4:28pm

Montana Supreme Court justices

BILLINGS, Mont. (Legal Newsline) - The Montana Supreme Court has declined to hear a newspaper's challenge to a court rule that keeps some lawyer disciplinary records confidential.

The Billings (Mont.) Gazette filed its challenger in November, arguing that the state constitution allows for the public to have access to such records because state lawyers hold positions of public trust.

The case began three years ago, after the newspaper requested the disciplinary records of Moira D'Alton, the former Billings deputy city attorney who was found to have violated rules for lawyer conduct while working as a city prosecutor.

While the newspaper's case has "arguable merit," the high court said it would be better to dismiss the case and allow proceedings to begin aimed at revising the rule.

"Such an approach will eliminate the necessity of adversarial briefing in this matter, and streamline the proceeding while allowing input from The Gazette, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Commission on Practice, the State Bar of Montana, and any and all other persons or organizations with an interest in this matter, as the rulemaking proceeds," justices wrote.

Current Montana Supreme Court rules allow disciplinary records of attorneys to remain sealed if the lawyer admits to violations before a formal complaint is filed by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the Supreme Court arm that investigates complaints against lawyers.

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