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Former Miss Montana Amber Shipman filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Yellowstone County District Court claiming she was touched inappropriately by a female pageant worker and was wrongfully stripped of her crown midway through her reign.

The lawsuit names as defendants former Miss Montana Pageant organizers Jack Lawson and Joan Crum. Lawson was the volunteer executive director of the statewide pageant for more than three decades and announced his resignation last month. Crum was a longtime volunteer and board member of the Miss Montana Organization and helped coordinate the contestants' wardrobes. The Miss Montana Organization is no longer connected with the pageant.

Shipman, of Glendive, won the pageant held in Billings in June 2003 and competed later that year at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, N.J.

In the lawsuit, Shipman lists seven allegations against the Montana pageant organization, Lawson and Crum, including two counts of battery, two counts of defamation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary compensation and punitive damages.

Shipman could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Shipman's attorney, Jeffrey Simkovic of Billings, said the lawsuit is "the only way for this young woman and her family to get closure."

Lawson and Crum said Tuesday they were dismayed by the lawsuit and the allegations made by the former pageant winner. Lawson said he was consulting with an attorney on Tuesday.

"I am very saddened that Amber and her counsel would not allow this to die, because it's over as far as we're concerned," Lawson said. "This is what I call guilt by accusation, the great American sport."

Crum said the allegations tarnish years of volunteer service to the pageant.

Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges against Crum following accusations of sexual misconduct made by Shipman when she was Miss Montana.

"All I can say is they appear to be so full of hate and revenge, and I'd like to know why," Crum said.

The dispute involving Shipman and the Miss Montana Organization began shortly after Shipman was crowned on June 28, 2003, at the Alberta Bair Theater. Shipman, then 19, went on to compete at the Miss America Pageant in September. Shortly after her return, the statewide Miss Montana school tour was cancelled amid turmoil between the pageant holder and the pageant organization.

In December, Shipman filed a complaint against Crum with the Billings Police Department, alleging Crum touched her breasts and forced her to undress in a public area of a clothing store.

In early February of last year, Billings city prosecutors announced that no charges would be filed against Crum. Prosecutors cited a lack of "probable cause to believe any crime had been committed."

Shipman claims in the lawsuit that Crum touched her breasts on June 30 and again on Aug. 5 of 2003.

During the first incident, the lawsuit states, Shipman, her mother and Crum were together for a wardrobe fitting when Crum ordered Shipman to remove her brassiere and expose her breasts. Crum "jerked forcefully" on Shipman's clothing and "hit (Shipman) in the lower belly while telling her to suck in," the lawsuit states.

When Shipman complained, the lawsuit states, she was told by Crum, "Well, get used to it because you will be changing in front of hundreds of women" at the Miss America pageant.

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During the second incident, the lawsuit states, Crum squeezed Shipman's breast and untied a wrap-style dress Shipman was wearing during a fitting at a Billings clothing store. Shipman's chest was exposed to customers inside the store, according to the lawsuit.

The Miss Montana Organization also failed to comply with terms of a contact when the group relieved Shipman of her duties as Miss Montana by a letter dated Feb. 27, 2004, the lawsuit states.

After Shipman was terminated as Miss Montana, the lawsuit states, Lawson "engaged in an intentional and malicious campaign to defame" Shipman by "compiling a libelous information packet and sending it to various local recruiting outlets for the Miss Montana Pageant and various local Chambers of Commerce.

The lawsuit also accuses Lawson of making slanderous remarks about Shipman to news organizations and individuals, describing her as "pitiful and disgusting" in some instances.

"The heretofore described acts of battery, libel, slander and breaches of contract are evidence of Defendants' deliberate and malicious intention to humiliate and demean (Shipman), and demonstrate a calculated campaign of character assassination in order to cause her mental suffering and anguish," the lawsuit states.

The Miss America Organization announced in early January that Montana was one of four states where franchise agreements would not be renewed. The organization gave no reason for withdrawing the franchises. At about the same time, Lawson said he and other board members had resigned from the state pageant organization, which began in Missoula in 1947 and had been in Billings since 1961. Lawson had served as the pageant executive director for 34 years.

In late January, the Miss America Organization awarded the Montana pageant franchise to a group in Glendive known as the Independent Montana Affiliated Group Effort. Organizers of the group said they plan to hold the Miss Montana Pageant in Glendive this year.

Shipman's mother, Lynnette Shipman, wrote a brief e-mail statement Tuesday in response to a telephone message left at the family home in Glendive.

"Amber and her family support the new franchise 100 percent," the statement said. "We believe that the Glendive group will do an awesome job hosting the Miss Montana program for many years to come."

Greg Tuttle can be reached at 657-1320 or at gtuttle@billingsgazette.com.

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