The former contract city attorney for Red Lodge has sued two town residents he says conducted a smear campaign against him, blocking his appointment with the city.
Joel W. Todd, 70, filed the lawsuit in Carbon County District Court.
Todd was appointed city prosecutor in January 2015, after the previous city prosecutor’s two-year contract expired. Todd applied again to retain his position when it was posted two years later but was denied. The city hired a new prosecutor in May 2017. The city hires attorneys on a two-year contract basis.
The suit charges two sisters, Mary Cameron and Diane Dimich, with slander, libel, conspiracy and interference with a prospective business relationship. Todd seeks $560,000 in punitive damages and lost wages.
The suit was first reported by Last Best News on Thursday.
Cameron is the coordinator for the Carbon County DUI Task Force. Dimich was sworn in on the Red Lodge City Council in January.
Todd says the sisters conspired to hurt his professional reputation through a series of letters to the city council and mayor, emails to city employees, public statements and social media posts.
The complaint begins with a letter Dimich wrote in February 2016 accusing Todd of coordinating with the Red Lodge Police Department to “harass, intimidate and threaten” the sisters with the goal of quieting their public criticism of Todd and the police department. The letter was addressed to “numerous members of the general public” in Red Lodge and Carbon County, the complaint states.
That same month, a woman from nearby Bearcreek sued Red Lodge for at least $1 million, claiming her home was illegally searched and she was injured a few weeks before when Red Lodge police executed a search warrant at her home in a drug investigation.
Todd and the police department received pushback for the incident from the Carbon County attorney and sheriff, who said the Red Lodge police force should have received approval from the sheriff’s office before executing a search warrant outside of the town.
Bearcreek does not have its own police department and relies on the Carbon County sheriff’s office for law enforcement.
Todd has said the city and police department did nothing wrong.
Dimich, one of the defendants, is listed as one of six members of the Red Lodge Community Oversight Representatives, which bills itself as a watchdog on local government and law enforcement.
In March 2016, Todd asked the Carbon County Commission to fire Cameron as coordinator of the county DUI task force and replace her with a law enforcement official, on the grounds that Cameron had falsely accused Todd of telling lies about her and acting unprofessionally and unethically.
Todd says he was following the directive of then-Mayor Ed Williams.
Todd later rescinded his request to have Cameron fired, instead asking commissioners to “modify and restrain her behavior.” Cameron remains in her post as coordinator of the task force.
The ex-prosecutor’s complaint also says Cameron accused him of working with the police chief and mayor to establish a drug forfeiture fund for Red Lodge in order to misappropriate general fund revenues and spend them illegally. The accusations were made in a September 2016 letter to select city employees, and in a subsequent post on social media, according to the complaint.
The sisters also claimed Todd had his paralegal, a city employee, perform work on his private cases; coerced the Carbon County News into muting criticism of him; and accused him of playing “an ‘illegal poker game’ at the Elks,” the lawsuit states.
Todd’s complaint also says the sisters wrongfully accused him of proposing changes to the town ordinance that would allow for lighter sentences for DUI defendants. Todd represents DUI defendants, among his other clients.
Reached Thursday, Todd said he made the proposal to bring the Red Lodge ordinance into line with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding warrantless breath tests for DUI suspects but prohibiting warrantless blood tests.
In his complaint, Todd says the sisters acted with actual malice, knowingly spreading false information, or doing so with reckless disregard for whether their statements were true. That’s the standard of proof for a defamation case against a public official, a standard that is “notoriously demanding,” said Anthony Johnstone, law professor at the University of Montana.
Todd said he tried to close all of his private cases before accepting the city attorney contract in Red Lodge in 2015. He could not close all of them, but he did stop taking new cases once he began in the public position. He resumed his private practice last year after he wasn't reappointed.
Todd said his law practice is mostly family law, but he also represents a local homeowners association and does defense work on minor criminal matters.
Todd and his wife moved to Montana in 2009 after he retired from his law practice in Philadelphia. The couple had a cabin near Red Lodge for years before the move.
Dimich and Cameron declined to comment, citing an upcoming meeting with their attorney, Brooke Murphy, of the Billings firm Matovich, Keller & Murphy, PC.
Their response is due Jan. 30.