In their responses to a lawsuit filed against them by the former prosecutor for the city of Red Lodge, two sisters have filed counterclaims, saying that Joel Todd abused the legal system in an attempt to stifle legitimate public criticism.
Todd filed his suit last month, accusing Diane Dimich, a member of the Red Lodge City Council, and her sister, Mary Cameron, the coordinator of the Carbon County DUI Task Force, of conspiracy, libel, slander and interference with a prospective business relationship.
Todd asked for damages and lost wages totaling $560,000, on the grounds that their
“campaign of harassment and vilification” against him resulted in the failure of his bid to be reappointed as the contract prosecutor for the city of Red Lodge.
Dimich filed her response on Jan. 30 and Cameron filed hers on Feb. 1 in Carbon County District Court. Though the sisters were represented by different attorneys, their responses were similar, in many cases identical.
Both responses said “Todd filed this baseless lawsuit with an ulterior purpose of harassing and intimidating” Cameron and Dimich, in hopes of silencing them. “Todd has no legal valid claim … and he knows it,” both responses said.
Both also said that “His actions in filing this lawsuit puts (sic) the legal process to a use perverted beyond its intended purpose.” One of the “affirmative defenses” cited by the sister says simply that they have “a constitutional right to free speech.”
In his lawsuit, Todd said the sisters carried out coordinated attacks on him for two years, accusing him of illegal activities and spreading misinformation about him via letters, emails and social media posts. He also accused them of working together to have him fired as city prosecutor and of trying to “blacken” his reputation.
Dimich was critical of Todd and other city officials in the wake of a drug bust that the city police department carried out in January 2016 in the little town of Bearcreek, six miles from Red Lodge. A woman who lived in a house behind the one targeted in the raid later sued the city of Red Lodge for unlawful arrest and for injuries she said she suffered in the incident.
An assistant state attorney general, asked by the city to file charges related to the drug bust because of concerns about the raid expressed by the Carbon County attorney, declined to do so, calling the raid “inappropriate.”
Dimich criticized officials for their handling of the raid, and in March 2016, she and several other Red Lodge residents founded Red Lodge Community Oversight Representatives, a group dedicated to monitoring city government and protecting the civil rights of people in the community.
In her response to Todd’s lawsuit, Dimich said he was seeking to both “punish Diane Dimich for and silence her from expressing her beliefs regarding Todd, a public figure, something she cannot legally be compelled to do.”
Cameron criticized Todd over some of the same issues, but also got into a spat with him over her position as coordinator of the DUI Task Force. In March 2016, at what he said was the direction of then-Mayor Ed Williams, Todd said in his lawsuit, he wrote a letter to the Carbon County Commission asking to have Cameron replaced as the task force coordinator.
Weeks later, again at the behest of the mayor, Todd said, he wrote to the commission to withdraw the request that Cameron be removed as coordinator, “in favor of asking the commissioners to modify and restrain Cameron’s behavior.”
Dimich and Cameron both say that Todd’s “abuse of process” has caused them damages and that they are entitled to punitive damages as a result. They don’t make a specific monetary claim in their responses, but ask for “compensatory and punitive damages as allowed by law” and for attorney’s fees and costs of the suit.
Cameron is represented by Ben Sather and Tanis Holm, of Sather Law in Billings. Dimich is represented by Brooke Murphy and Talia Damrow, of the Matovich, Keller & Murphy law firm, also in Billings.