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Judge to Consider Releasing Details of Boat Crash Involving Rehberg
Court order asks parties involved in criminal case to respond to release-of-information request
A district court judge will consider whether to release a pre-sentence investigation report containing details of a 2009 Flathead Lake boat crash that hospitalized former state Sen. Greg Barkus, Congressman Denny Rehberg and three others.

Judge John McKeon of Malta issued an Oct. 9 order in response to a release-of-information request from the Washington D.C.-based group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

The order comes as Rehberg, a Republican and Montana’s lone congressman, is engaged in a high-profile race for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Jon Tester.

McKeon gave Barkus, a Republican state senator from Kalispell at the time of the August 2009 crash, a four-year deferred sentence in January 2011 for felony criminal endangerment for his role in operating the boat.

Earlier this month, CREW sent a letter to the Flathead County clerk of court requesting the pre-sentencing investigation report in the criminal case of State of Montana v. Barkus. Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, argued that the public has a right to know more details about an accident involving two elected officials.

“The true story behind the very serious boat crash involving two public officials has never been revealed,” Sloan said in a press release announcing the request.

McKeon concluded that CREW “has met the initial burden of showing entitlement” to the report, citing the organization’s claim that there is significant public interest in disclosure “to understand the circumstances of the crash and how those circumstances relate to the integrity and judgment of these government officials.”

The judge ordered both parties involved in the boat crash’s criminal case – Barkus and the state of Montana – to respond to CREW’s request by Oct. 23.

“The parties to this action must now be given the opportunity to show that the demands of individual privacy outweigh the merits of public disclosure,” the judge wrote.

Rehberg’s campaign called CREW’s request politically motivated, saying the group is associated with Democrats and questioning the timing of the move just weeks before the election. Sloan is a former staffer to Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Joe Biden of Delaware, both Democrats, as well as a former assistant U.S. attorney.

“Denny was a witness, not a party to this case, and has no control over whether this report is released, but he’s fine with whatever the court decides,” Chris Bond, Rehberg’s campaign spokesperson, said.

“That said, CREW is a well-documented front group for Washington Democrats, and the fact that they’re suddenly bringing this up just weeks before an election shows that this is much more about their liberal political agenda than it is about anything else.”

Rehberg was a passenger on the boat that crashed into a rocky shoreline near Bigfork on Aug. 27, 2009, along with two of his staffers and Barkus’ wife. The congressman broke his ankle, while the others were also injured, including Rehberg’s state director, Dustin Frost, who suffered a serious brain injury.

Prosecutors said that Barkus’ blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit two hours after the accident.

Tester’s campaign has issued press releases since CREW first made its request, arguing that “much information” about the criminal case stemming from the boat crash has been “hidden from the public.”

The campaign disputes assertions about CREW’s partisanship by pointing to the group’s annual “most corrupt” politician list that is divided between Democrats and Republicans. A spokesperson said releasing more details about the crash would be a service to the public.

“Jon’s focused on creating Montana jobs, cutting spending, safeguarding women’s rights and protecting Social Security and Medicare,” Tester spokesperson Alexandra Fetissoff said. “But transparency is a Montana value, and elected officials should be held accountable for the irresponsible decisions they make.

“The public has a right to know Congressman Rehberg’s involvement in this crash so they can make their own conclusions with all the facts.”
On 10-16-12, thinker commented....
When Paul Sliter died in a drunken driving wreck, his blood alcohol level was kept from the public.  The driver was an aide to Gov Martz.  I often wondered if the aide was chosen to drive to protect Sliter from any adverse publicity if he had…
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