‘Billings Gazette’ Challenges Sealing of Documents in Death Lawsuit Against Cops

By: The Associated Press

The Billings Gazette newspaper is seeking to intervene in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the city and county police departments over a fatal crash that occurred during a car chase.

Newspaper attorney Martha Sheehy filed a motion Wednesday challenging an order that allows attorneys in the case to submit documents under seal, preventing public access.

Sheehy said the order signed Dec. 18 by District Judge G. Todd Baugh violates federal and state constitutional rights.

The family of Lillian Stahl sued the Billings Police Department and the Yellowstone County sheriff?s department over a September 2008 crash that happened when a teenager leading police on a car chase ran a red light and slammed his vehicle into Stahl?s, killing her. The lawsuit alleges both agencies violated their pursuit policies.

Baugh?s order was written and submitted by Butte attorney Brendon Rohan, who represents the police department. It describes a broad range of materials that can be filed out of public scrutiny, including ?documents, photos, video, graphic representations, and other tangible things.?

Rohan declined Thursday to comment on the newspaper?s motion, saying he would review it and ?respond within the confines of the lawsuit.?

The attorneys representing the sheriff?s office and Stahl?s family also signed the proposed order.

Chris Edwards, one of the attorneys representing the Stahls, said Thursday that they would not object to the newspaper?s motion. They agreed to the protective order, he said, ?to facilitate the flow of information? in the lawsuit.

Brian Houston, the 17-year-old whose vehicle smashed into Stahl, pleaded guilty to negligent vehicular homicide and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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