A former Montana court employee has dropped her lawsuit over a confidential settlement agreement she signed but later wished to break.
The state has agreed to let Britt Long disseminate a copy of the agreement she entered into with a judge she sued in 2011, after alleging the judge slapped her butt with a folder.
But the state can’t act either way on Long’s desire to publish criticisms of the judge — an act barred by the 2013 agreement. That agreement was signed only by Long, her attorney and the former judge.
Bozeman attorney Matthew Monforton filed the lawsuit on Long’s behalf in U.S. District Court in August, naming Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox.
An attorney for Bullock and Fox asked Monforton to drop the suit the week after he filed, saying the only relief the state could grant was to let a copy of the $12,000 settlement agreement be released.
Monforton cast the developments as a win, saying in an email, “Bullock (and) Fox threw in the towel and won't try to defend the gag rule they imposed on Britt Long.”
But a spokeswoman for Bullock had earlier noted both he and Fox were not even sworn into office yet when Long signed her agreement.
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“We’ve said from the beginning that this case has nothing to do with Gov. Bullock,” wrote the governor’s communications director, Marissa Perry. “This voluntary dismissal confirms that.”
John Barnes, communications director for Fox, wrote: "I am glad to see that Mr. Monforton realized he sued the wrong people and dropped his suit before wasting even more taxpayer dollars. For the sake of his clients, I hope he does his homework before filing anything in the future."
Long worked as a court clerk and standing master in the 10th Judicial District in central Montana until 2011. She sued and later entered into a confidential settlement for $12,000 with Judge E. Wayne Phillips, according to a copy of the agreement provided by Monforton.
Long, now a New Jersey resident, wishes to disclose complaints about Phillips relayed to her from two other women. Long said she is pursuing a book and scholarly articles on state-level judicial ethics.
Still unanswered is whether the former judge will agree to release Long from the non-disparagement portion of the agreement. Monforton said his next step is to sue Phillips over that matter. Reached Tuesday, Phillips said he was "not inclined" to waive the non-disparagement clause, adding, "Because, you know, how do you get to the truth?"
Long ran unsuccessfully for Phillips' open seat in 2012, after Phillips announced plans to retire. In the run-up to the election, she was rebuked by Lewis and Clark County District Judge Kathy Seeley for her performance in another case and ordered to pay more than $15,000 in attorney fees. That judge characterized Long's work by "neglect," "paranoia" and "erratic" behavior, and questioned Long's judicial qualifications.