The Montana Department of Justice will investigate Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder—and Commissioner-elect—Betty Lund on an allegation that she violated the Privacy in Communication Act by ordering her employees to secretly tape record their conversations with people doing business with her office.
The allegation is one of seven that the Board of County Commissioners lodged against Lund last October.
In a letter dated Dec. 6, Mike Batista, administrator of the Montana Division of Criminal Investigation, told the board that his office reviewed the seven allegations of official misconduct but concluded that only the tape recording allegation merited investigation.
“Most of the allegations might be termed inappropriate acts in the performance of official functions or may violate county policies or good management practices,” Batista wrote. “We conclude that most of the actions do not rise to the level of criminal acts.”
Lund, Ravalli County’s long-time elected clerk and recorder, has repeatedly denied the taping allegation. In her successful campaign for Ravalli County commissioner, she told voters that the charges against her were merely “political,” though she never made clear what she meant by that.
The state’s decision not to investigate the other six charges against her was exciting news, she said Monday.
“I’m very, very excited that they found that six of the seven were not potentially criminal acts,” she said. As for the seventh, Lund added, “It’s an interesting one because I think it’s just hearsay.” Lund said she questioned all seven of her employees in the clerk and recorder’s office about the alleged tape recording order, and all seven said it was untrue. She has also asked her political foe, Chief Administrative Officer Don Klepper, for a copy of the documents supporting the allegation.
Three witnesses—County Commissioner Smut Warren, who was defeated by Lund in the June primary; the board’s administrative assistant Glenda Wiles; and Hamilton attorney Jennifer Boatwright—claim to have either overheard Lund order her employees to secretly record conversations or seen an employee turn on a tape recorder.
Alan Thompson, who represents the mid-valley on the County Commission, said he pursued the charges of official misconduct against Lund because the board’s attorney advised him that he could be held liable if he believed Lund was guilty of misconduct and failed to report it.
“I felt it was necessary to have the state look at it, and I’m still of that opinion,” Thompson said.
An investigator from Missoula has been assigned to look into the tape recording allegation. When the investigation is completed, it will be turned over to Ravalli County Attorney George Corn for his review and determination if criminal charges should be filed.