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Mont. judge releases part of presentence report in prosecution of federal senator's boat crash

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A Montana judge Wednesday approved the release of portions of a presentence investigation report in a criminal case stemming from…

A Montana judge Wednesday approved the release of portions of a presentence investigation report in a criminal case stemming from a 2009 boat crash involving two federal legislators.

The Associated Press and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed requests for the report in 2010 after Sen. Gregory Barkus pleaded guilty to two felony charges of criminal endangerment for crashing a boat and injuring his four passengers, one of whom was Rep. Dennis Rehberg, a current U.S. Senate candidate. At the time of the crash, Barkus had a blood-alcohol content of 0.16, more than twice the legal limit to drive.

Barkus had asked Judge John McKeon to delay the release of the report, claiming its disclosure would violate the state constitutional privacy rights of victims and witnesses of the crash, but prosecutors urged the judge to withhold private information and release the rest right away.

The judge agreed with prosecutors and said he would not release contact, background, financial and medical information of Barkus, Rehberg and the victims and witnesses listed in the report.

“There remains information within the PSI where the merits of public disclosure exceed any privacy interest,” McKeon said in his order. “These circumstances make relevant the public disclosure of an edited version of the PSI.”

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said that the organization is satisfied with the judge’s order, although more could have been released. "But overall, we’re happy with the result,” she said.

Sloan said CREW requested the presentence investigation report because it contained information on two elected officials that might be relevant to the public.

“It’s a big victory for the public’s right to know,” she said.

The clerk's office is preparing the report, which should be released soon, Sloan said.