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Governor sued for denying records request
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Governor sued for denying records request

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A lawsuit filed Tuesday against Gov. Greg Gianforte alleges the governor denied a public records request for documents from the 2021 legislative session. 

Jayson O'Neill, former executive director of the Western Values Project, is the sole plaintiff in the suit filed in Lewis and Clark County District Court.

The suit claims in July the governor's office denied O'Neill's requests submitted in May, shortly after the Legislature adjourned, for agency bill monitoring forms, citing attorney-client privilege. The forms contain legal advice regarding bills passed by the 2021 Legislature, according to the filing. The governor's office also rejected O'Neill's second request for the records earlier this month, the lawsuit states.

“We generally don’t comment on pending litigation, especially partisan lawsuits launched by left-wing political operatives,” Gianforte spokesperson Brooke Stroyke said in an email Tuesday.

Gianforte is a Republican and campaign finance records show O'Neill has backed Democratic candidates. 

O'Neill's attorneys argue the documents were not related to active litigation and were therefore not subject to attorney-client privilege. The lawsuit stakes its footing on the Montana Constitution's right-to-know provision. Attorneys added the forms were created in 2021 and have not yet been subjected to judicial review.

O'Neill is represented by attorneys Constance Van Kley and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan of Upper Seven Law, which represents clients in one lawsuit filed against Gianforte in June, along with two pending lawsuits against the Republican Secretary of State and another against officials in Ravalli County. Raph Graybill, who also represents several clients currently suing state officials, is also representing O'Neill. 

"Montanans need to know whether the governor's office knowingly signed off on unconstitutional legislation or otherwise played a role in creating and passing unsound and unlawful policies to the detriment of Montanans' freedoms," Graybill, who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general as a Democrat in 2020, said in a press release Tuesday.

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