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Koopman files $2.2M claim against PSC, others over email furor

Says PSC employees publicly released personal info
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Posted at 5:31 PM, Dec 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-30 19:31:07-05

HELENA — Montana Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman has filed a $2.2 million claim against the PSC and some of its employees, saying co-workers publicly distributed some of his office emails containing personal information, as a form of “political retaliation.”

A memo attached to the claim, filed earlier this week, says the PSC, “particular commissioners” and a former and current PSC employee engaged in “intentional, malicious and negligent acts” that harmed Koopman, his wife and his daughter.

The claim stems from a running conflict between Koopman and some of his fellow commissioners that came to a head a year ago, when someone in the office acquired three dozen Koopman office emails, without his knowledge, and gave them to conservative website.

That website, Northwest Liberty News in Kalispell, posted the emails, including three that Koopman sent to his daughter or attorney, discussing personal affairs. The website later took down those three emails.

The other emails contained critical comments that Koopman had made about fellow commissioners and some PSC employees.

At the time, Koopman, a Republican representing the PSC’s southwest Montana district, told MTN News he considered the email distribution a “malicious act” meant to embarrass him.

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MT Public Service Commission Chair Brad Johnson, R-East Helena.

PSC Chairman Brad Johnson, R-East Helena, told MTN News Wednesday he hadn’t seen or known of Koopman’s complaint, and said he had no immediate comment.

The five-member PSC regulates utilities in Montana; its members are elected to four-year terms. Koopman, a former state legislator from Bozeman, has been on the PSC since 2013. His final term ends next week.

In the past two years, Koopman has sometimes been publicly critical of fellow commissioners, particularly Johnson, over PSC certain decisions, travel expenses and other issues.

After the emails surfaced, another commissioner, Republican Randy Pinocci of Sun River, revealed that he had surreptitiously requested Koopman’s emails – a public document -- because he was concerned about Koopman’s behavior. Pinocci denied distributing them to Northwest Liberty News – although he has appeared on the website owner’s radio show, criticizing Koopman.

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Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci, R-Sun River.

Koopman said last year that he regarded the distribution of the emails a form of “political retaliation” and that he was considering legal action.

This week’s filing is the precursor to a possible lawsuit against the PSC and others named in the claim.

Under state law, if a claim for damages is against a state entity or actions by an employee, it must be filed first with the state Department of Administration.

If the state denies any part of the claim, the person filing it can take the issue to state District Court, in a civil suit seeking damages.

Koopman filed his claim with the state Monday. Agency officials said the 16-page complaint is not yet a public record, because it must first be reviewed to see if it contains any information involving the personal privacy of employees.

Put a two-page memorandum summarizing the complaint says the PSC, “certain commissioners and staff, as well as the PSC legal team, engaged in a course of conduct that was often maliciously and intentionally targeted to knowingly cause harm” to Koopman and his family.

It said the conduct began in the fall of 2019 and escalated during 2020.

“This was an abuse of authority that violated laws and written policies and perpetuated the intended harm,” the memo said. “The PSC legal staff acquiesced to this majority rule approach (by commissioners) despite repeated findings that violations occurred.”

MTN News first reported on the acquisition and posting of Koopman’s emails last February.