Friday, February 17, 2017

Montana Need Not Pay Court Reporter Harassed By Judge

The State of Montana was not liable based on a stipulated judgment between a judge and his harassed court reporter, according to a decision of the Montana Supreme Court.

The facts found by the District Court for purposes of this declaratory action are as follows. In 1991, Berdahl began working as a court reporter for the Sixteenth Judicial District Court, in Forsyth. In November 2012, George Huss was elected as a district court judge in the Sixteenth Judicial District. Huss oversaw Department Two of the District and Berdahl worked directly for Huss as his primary court reporter. In this capacity, Berdahl worked closely with Huss and often traveled with him to locations within the District for official court business.

In February 2014, Berdahl filed a sexual harassment complaint against Huss with the Montana Human Rights Bureau (HRB). Berdahl alleged that Huss, during work time, had made various declarations of romantic interest, love, and undying devotion to her, which Berdahl resisted. Berdahl stated that Huss bought her gifts, offered to make her dinner while his wife was out of town, and expressed his desire to kiss and hug her. Berdahl alleged that Huss retaliated against her in the workplace when she resisted his overtures. Berdahl’s detailed complaint set forth numerous further allegations about Huss’s behavior, some of which was delineated by the District Court.

The judge sought defense and indemnification by the State to no avail and

Berdahl and Huss mediated on September 3, 2014, and although they did not reach a settlement that day, they continued to negotiate and, on September 30, 2014, entered into a “Stipulation and Confession of Judgment Resulting from the State of Montana’s Refusal to Defend and Indemnify.” In this agreement, Huss confessed to judgment in Berdahl’s favor in the amount of $744,371. He assigned his rights against the State to Berdahl and agreed to “cooperate in jointly requesting entry of this Judgment by any tribunal having jurisdiction.” Berdahl agreed not to seek execution of the judgment against Huss.

Berdahl then sought payment from the State

We affirm the District Court’s determination that the State was not obligated to pay the stipulated judgment entered by Berdahl and Huss. Consequently, it is unnecessary to address the issue of whether Huss’s actions came within the course and scope of his employment. Finally, as the District Court correctly noted, Berdahl may pursue relief before the HRB, where the administrative proceeding on her complaint is currently stayed.

(Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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