The former prosecutor for the city of Red Lodge has filed suit against two sisters — one a City Council member and the other the coordinator of the Carbon County DUI Task Force — accusing them of conspiracy, libel, slander and working against his appointment as city attorney.
In the lawsuit, filed Jan. 8, in Carbon County District Court, Joel Todd said Diane Cameron Dimich and Mary Cameron “conducted a campaign of harassment and vilification” against him in conversations with other people and in emails, letters and Facebook posts.
As a result of their actions, he said, the Red Lodge City Council denied his application and appointed another person as city attorney last spring, thus depriving him of a salary of $70,000 a year for at least two years. He asks to be awarded $140,000 in lost compensation, plus punitive damages of three times that amount, or $420,000, for total damages of $560,000.
Todd’s complaint said Cameron and Dimich have been “acting together, in concert, against Todd” for two years, starting with a letter Dimich wrote “and published … to numerous members of the general public,” in which she accused Todd and the Red Lodge Police Department of harassing and intimidating her and her sister.
“The Dimich accusations in the letter, which were also published on Facebook, constituted accusations of criminal behavior against Todd and members of the RLPD,” the complaint said.
Dimich had been outspoken in asking for public explanations after the Police Department executed a drug raid in January 2016 on a house in Bearcreek, a tiny town six miles east of Red Lodge.
The department’s actions were strongly criticized by Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon, and an assistant state attorney general called the raid “inappropriate,” with the result that no charges were filed in relation to the bust. The assistant AG specifically rejected Todd’s attempt to assert that Red Lodge police had jurisdiction in Bearcreek.
A woman who lived in a separate residence behind the house that was raided later sued the city of Red Lodge for at least $1 million, saying she was falsely arrested and placed in handcuffs, and then, while being led out of her house, suffered injuries when she slipped on some ice and fell.
In March 2016, Dimich joined other Red Lodge residents in forming a group called Red Lodge Community Oversight Representatives, with the idea of monitoring city government and protecting the civil rights of people in the community.
Todd, who had been working on contract as the city prosecutor since January 2015, said in the complaint that on March 21, 2016, at the behest of then-Mayor Ed Williams, Todd wrote a letter to the Carbon County Commission asking to have Cameron replaced as the coordinator of the county DUI Task Force.
Todd said the mayor thought someone with law enforcement experience should head the task force. But he also said his letter to the commission “included written and oral statements” in which Cameron “falsely accused Todd of telling lies about Cameron and acting in an unprofessional unethical manner.”
Less than a month 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.”
Cameron asked the mayor in writing to have Todd fired that June, the complaint says, and “falsely stated that Todd acted outside the course and scope of his duties” in writing to the County Commission about her.
The mayor — who was then Mike Schoenike, Williams having resigned in June 2016 — refused to fire Todd, and on July 13 Cameron wrote another letter, this one accusing Todd of playing in “illegal poker games” at the Elks Club, the complaint says.
In subsequent letters and social media posts, the complaint continues, Cameron falsely accused Todd of using his city-paid paralegal to work on private cases, of creating a drug forfeiture fund to cover illegal expenditures and of conspiring with the former mayor to prevent the Carbon County News, the local newspaper, from publishing articles and letters to the editor “that would expose Todd’s illegal acts.”
In December 2017, the city began the search for a city attorney, and Todd submitted a statement of qualifications on Jan. 25, the complaint says. On Feb. 15, the complaint goes on, Dimich submitted a letter to the mayor alleging that Todd had proposed a city ordinance “for the express purpose of negotiating lighter sentences for defendants charged with DUI.”
That letter and a followup email, Todd claims, “were intended primarily by Dimich and Cameron to blacken Todd’s professional reputation” and to further their goal of “inducing” the mayor and City Council not to hire him as the full-time city attorney.
In March of 2017, the complaint says, Dimich conducted a public campaign against Todd, accusing him of trying to remove Andrew Dimich, Diane’s son, from the City Council. Andrew Dimich had been elected to the council in the fall of 2016.
And then, on May 8, 2017, “Another person, who only became qualified to practice law in Montana on or about May 3, 2017, was appointed Red Lodge City Attorney,” the complaint says. That person was Becky Narmore.
Even after he lost his bid for the city attorney job, Todd says in the complaint, Cameron and Dimich continued to make false claims about him, hoping “to damage and to undermine Todd’s professional reputation permanently.” He also claims that their attacks on his professional reputation convinced “prospective clients” not to hire him as their attorney.
Meanwhile, Diane Dimich was elected to the City Council last fall and Cameron remains the DUI Task Force coordinator.
Cameron could not be reached for comment, but Dimich said Wednesday that she and her sister have until Jan. 30 to file a response to Todd’s complaint. Dimich said she is planning to meet with her lawyer on Friday and thought it best not to say anything about the lawsuit for now.
As a bizarre side note to Todd’s dispute with Dimich and Cameron, another member of the City Council, Anna Drew, said she was pressured to excuse herself from voting on the hiring of a new city attorney.
At the May 8 council meeting at which Narmore was appointed city attorney on a 5-1 vote, Drew read a prepared statement (for which, scroll down to the last page of the minutes from that meeting).
In it, Drew said that two days before the meeting, the city’s community development director, Peter Italiano, questioned whether she should sit on the panel that was interviewing city attorney candidates. Drew said she spoke with then-Mayor Schoenike about Italiano’s concerns the next day, and the mayor decided she was qualified to remain on the panel.
Then, on the morning of the meeting, nine minutes before the panel was to interview Todd for the city attorney job, Drew said, Italiano “made allegations that Joel Todd may need to make an ethics complaint against one of my family members because I informally chatted with them regarding an ordinance that was passed earlier this year. He asserted this would bias my opinion against Joel Todd and I should be removed.”
Her statement continued: “Peter stated this could be a very long and difficult process for my family member. I asked Peter directly if that was a threat designed to remove me from the vote. He responded in front of the entire panel that it wasn’t a threat from him but it may be a threat from Joel Todd.”
Drew said she removed herself from the panel, “but I will not let their bullying remove me from the vote. Their behavior was inappropriate, unethical and cruel.”
She concluded her statement by saying that if she wrote books about government, “this would have to be set as a fiction novel, since no one would ever believe this story was true.”