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Montana Commissioner of Higher Education Clayton Christian is appealing a court decision ordering his office to hand over redacted student records to author Jon Krakauer.

On Thursday, attorneys with the Montana University System filed a notice of appeal, informing the Montana Supreme Court they will be petitioning the high court to overturn a ruling by Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Mike Menahan in a long-running case between Krakauer and the state.

Menahan ruled in March that the commissioner's office had to turn over the documents after the Supreme Court sent the case back to his court and ordered him to conduct a confidential review of a student's records to determine which, if any, should be handed over the Krakauer.

After the review, Menahan decided that redactions of the records done by Christian’s office had effectively protected the identity of the former student at the center of the case, ordered the state to make a limited number of further redactions and turn over a selection of documents.

Krakauer, who in 2015 released the book “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” had sued to gain access to records relating to a disciplinary case involving former University of Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson. Johnson was acquitted by a jury in 2013 after being accused of rape.

Before the criminal case, multiple proceedings on campus found that an unidentified student facing allegations identical to those against Johnson had violated UM’s Student Conduct Code.

Then-UM President Royce Engstrom agreed that the student be expelled, but the decision was reversed by Christian's office after the student appealed.

Johnson’s attorney at the criminal trial, David Paoli, represents the student, referred to as John Doe, in the lawsuit over release of records by Christian's office. 

While the case was in District Court, Krakauer also sought an award for his attorney fees in the records suit. But in a separate order in May, Menahan denied the claim.

While ordinarily lawyer fees would be awarded in such cases, the judge ruled that the Commissioner’s Office had not acted unreasonably in originally denying Krakauer’s request for the documents as it believed that doing so would violate federal privacy rights regulations.

Krakauer’s attorney, Mike Meloy of Helena, said at the time that if the Commissioner’s Office appealed the order to release documents to the Montana Supreme Court, Krakauer would cross-appeal the decision regarding attorney’s fees. He confirmed Thursday to the Missoulian that such a cross-appeal would be filed.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.