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Document outlines argument to release Costello report

Clay County residents need to know details of Sheriff Larry Costello's relationship with a former female deputy to determine whether he acted appropriately, a court brief filed Thursday by Forum Communications Co. says.

Clay County residents need to know details of Sheriff Larry Costello's relationship with a former female deputy to determine whether he acted appropriately, a court brief filed Thursday by Forum Communications Co. says.

The document, filed in Clay County District Court, states the county's investigation last summer into his relationship with Kathy Cline should be public, particularly when Costello is considering running for re-election this year.

"We want this thing released to the public," said Steve Johnson, attorney for Forum Communications Co., in an interview Thursday. "The newspaper is the eyes and ears of the public. ... That's the role of the media."

Clay County Attorney Lisa Borgen did not return a phone requesting comment. The county has 10 days to file its response to the brief.

The county has guarded the investigative report since it was submitted to commissioners Sept. 18, claiming the details are protected by Minnesota's data privacy laws. The county claims Costello is an employee and his personnel data cannot be released.


"Costello is really only answerable to the public," Johnson said. "The people to whom he is answerable to are being left in the dark."

Forum Communications, on behalf of The Forum, WDAY-TV and WDAY-AM, filed a lawsuit late last year against the county seeking release of the report. In January, a judge said individuals interviewed for the investigation could be heard on whether the report should be made public.

"Here, it cannot be disputed that the citizens of Clay County have a compelling interest in knowing whether Sheriff Costello, an individual they elected to office, engaged in wrongful conduct," the brief states.

The investigative report references Costello, Cline and 51 other people. The investigation began after Cline filed a complaint letter with the county last July, claiming the sheriff assaulted, stalked, harassed and discriminated against her.

"The brief gives our detailed analysis on why this should be disclosed," Johnson said. "We think the benefit greatly outweighs any harm from releasing the report."

Cline has requested the report be made public.

Many who were interviewed, including Costello, oppose releasing the report.

Any court ruling adopting Costello's argument that he is an employee "would result in there being no accountability on his part to the citizens who elected him," Johnson wrote in the brief.


Forum Communications argues Costello is not an employee and information from the investigation cannot be considered protected data.

"Clay County can not suspend Sheriff Costello, place him on probation or even impose any conditions on him as a requirement of retaining his position as sheriff," the brief states. "If Sheriff Costello was truly an employee, Clay County would have the authority to do each of these things."

In Cline's federal lawsuit filed against the county in December, she outlines allegations of forced sexual contact, unwanted advances, harassing phone calls and denial of a promotion to a lieutenant's position by Costello despite Cline testing higher than a male applicant who received the job. She also claims the county failed to protect her civil rights.

Costello, in response to the suit, said he had an affair with Cline and denied any wrongdoing. The county also denies any liability.

Clay County voters will elect a sheriff, a position that paid more than $78,000 in 2001, during November's general election. Costello has not indicated whether he plans to run for re-election.

"He may very run for sheriff and it (the report) becomes even more important," Johnson said. "The residents should know what's in the report if they are going to vote for him again."

The filing deadline is July 16. Dilworth Police Chief Dave Miller and Clay County Deputy Dave Brager have both said they will run for the job.

Readers can reach Forum reporter


Steven P. Wagner at (701) 241-5542

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