HELENA — A judge has ordered the University of Montana to turn over to author Jon Krakauer any records on how the state’s higher education commissioner handled a rape case against Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson.
The nationally known “Into the Wild” author is writing a book about sexual assaults at the university that includes the accusations that Johnson raped a female acquaintance in 2012.
A district judge acquitted Johnson of rape last year in state court. But before that, a university court recommended expulsion of an unnamed student — later identified as Johnson — after concluding the rape had occurred.
The accused student appealed the university court’s decision to Commissioner Clayton Christian, but there is no record of what action Christian took, if any.
Johnson was not expelled. The Grizzlies are 2-2 so far this year with Johnson at quarterback.
Krakauer filed his lawsuit after Christian’s office refused his request in January to turn over Christian’s records related to the case. Christian’s attorneys resisted, saying the university system could lose its federal funding if it releases personal information about student without that student’s consent.
They also claimed Krakauer could not file a public-records request in Montana because he is a Colorado resident and the student’s privacy trumps the public’s right to know under the Montana Constitution.
Judge Kathy Seeley in her order dismissed Christian’s arguments, saying the Montana Constitution allows anybody to examine public records and that federal funding would be jeopardized only if the school systematically disclosed personal student information.
She also rejected the privacy argument.
“The entire incident, from the initial administrative investigation to the conclusion of the criminal trial, is a matter of public record,” Seeley wrote. “The only aspect of the lengthy process that is not a matter of public record is the action taken by the Commissioner.”
The judge gave the state 21 days to make the records available, but she will allow officials to black out student names, birth dates, Social Security numbers and other personal information.
Commissioner spokesman Kevin McRae declined to release the documents to The Associated Press on Thursday, and added that he cannot even confirm that any records exist.
The Montana University system will analyze the order over the next 30 days, McRae said in an email. “We will proceed carefully to ensure we’re compliant with our legal obligations,” he said.
Krakauer attorney Mike Meloy said he anticipates the state will appeal the ruling.
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