Montana Paper Seeks to Intervene in Rape Court Case

By: The Billings (Mont.) Gazette wants to intervene in a lawsuit filed
by a man seeking compensation after he served 15 years in prison for a rape that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit.

In documents filed in court Monday, the Gazette opposed state attempts to close a June 11 hearing in the case and to enforce an order restricting access to case files.

"We believe the public's right to know is not served when hearings are
closed and public documents are sealed from view," said Steve Prosinski, the Gazette's editor. "An important case such as this, involving several government entities, should be contested out in the open, not in secret."

State and federal laws provide for access, said Martha Sheehy, a lawyer for the Gazette.

The case of Jim Bromgard, the former Billings man exonerated by the DNA evidence, is before U.S. Magistrate Carolyn Ostby. She has not ruled on the Gazette's request.

Bromgard's 1987 conviction for the rape of an 8-year-old girl was vacated in 2002.

He says the state was negligent and the county legal service that he
received was inadequate. Bromgard's lawyers have said they are seeking $16.5 million in damages.

State efforts to control information about the case intensified recently
when the Chicago Tribune published a story about statements that Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath gave in a deposition. The Tribune reported that McGrath still believed Bromgard was guilty.

McGrath said the newspaper misrepresented the statements he had made in the deposition.

The Tribune and the Gazette then posted McGrath's deposition on their Web sites.

The state, represented by attorney Shelton Williams of Missoula, cites trial fairness as a reason to restrict access to information about the case. Besides closing the hearing, the state wants Ostby to seal the entire case file.

Bromgard does not oppose the Gazette's request to enter the case, said his lawyer, Ron Waterman of Helena.


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