The nasty political battle that had pitted one Ravalli County official against her colleagues for nearly half a year appears to be over.
Last week, the state dropped its investigation of former Clerk and Recorder—now County Commissioner—Betty Lund.
Mike Batista, administrator of the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, informed the board of county commissioners in a letter last week that an investigation revealed no wrongdoing on Lund’s part.
“After conducting numerous interviews with clerk and recorder employees, other county officials, and Betty Lund, we have determined that no crime was committed and therefore no probable cause exists to charge Betty Lund with a criminal violation.”
The investigation into various allegations of official misconduct was prompted by the two sitting county commissioners, Allan Thompson and Jack Atthowe, and by former commissioner Smut Warren, who was defeated by Lund in the June primary.
The three had accused Lund of a variety of misdeeds in her former capacity as clerk and recorder. Of the seven allegations lodged against her, the state found only one to be worthy of investigation, a charge that she instructed her employees to secretly tape record various members of the public and certain county officials doing business with her office. Three witnesses—Warren, a county secretary and a Hamilton attorney—said they either saw Lund’s employees record conversations or overheard her instructing them to do so.
After dropping the six other allegations of official misconduct, the state turned over the taping charge to the county attorney and sheriff for investigation and prosecution.
Other county officials who were uninvolved were dubious that either County Attorney George Corn or Sheriff Perry Johnson would involve themselves in a highly political investigation of a colleague. One longtime county employee said privately that state investigators were extremely reluctant to get involved in the politics of the case.
Last week, Corn said he referred the case back to state investigators because his duty as civil attorney for the board of county commissioners conflicted with a state-requested criminal investigation of a member of the board. Also, he added, the board of county commissioners oversees his budget and the sheriff’s, which presented further complications.
Lund consistently denied all the allegations against her, particularly the charge that she ordered her employees to tape record certain conversations, during her campaign for county commissioner. Voters apparently were undisturbed by the charges, and she was elected by a wide margin.
“I was hoping I would be vindicated, because I felt I was innocent of all the charges,” Lund said from her new office last week. “It’s been a long, long year. I’m glad it’s come to an end.” Carlotta Grandstaf