After sharp debate, Republicans in the Senate confirmed the director of the state Department of Administration, who has come under scrutiny by Democrats for her role in an ongoing dispute between the Legislature and the judiciary.
Misty Ann Giles was confirmed on a 31-19 party-line vote.
Earlier this month Giles was subpoenaed by Republicans in the Legislature, who asked her to turn over emails sent and received by the state Supreme Court administrator.
GOP lawmakers sought documents, which the administrator said she'd deleted, as they investigated a judges' poll conducted by email.
Giles turned over 2,500 emails less than a work day after being subpoenaed, emails Democrats, repeating judges' and the administrator's concerns, said contain private details such as information from youth court proceedings or health information. Giles was working though the weekend to produce more of the administrator's emails when the Supreme Court quashed the legislative subpoena. While Giles has stopped producing emails, she has also asked for an extension to respond to the subpoena and it's not clear which she'll comply with going forward.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Doug Kary, a Billings Republican who carried the resolution nominating Giles, defended her performance.
"It is disappointing that her compliance with the legislative subpoena and the legislative requests have led some to question her ability to lead the Department of Administration," Kary told the Senate, saying Giles met an initial deadline and asked for more time to comply in an effort to not disclose private data.
Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour, a Democrat from East Helena, said Giles' compliance was with a "questionable" subpoena and equated Giles' access to the court administrator's email to "hacking." DOA operates the state's email system, meaning it retained the emails the court administrator deleted.
"Acting Director Giles failed to act appropriately and independently in her job and exposed the state to serious ethical issues and legal liability," Cohenour said, adding Giles did not perform a "standard privacy review."
After Cohenour spoke, Kary closed on the resolution and said the minority leader "really should be ashamed." "Miss Giles was complying with a subpoena from our body, no. 1. No. 2, the request for records are from public records," Kary said.
Giles was the chief of staff for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At that agency, she "managed operational realignments and modernizations within the agency and helped oversee the delivery of the $239 billion loan portfolio through its 477 offices nationwide," according to a press release from when she was nominated.
Giles will be paid $145,000, a 28% increase from the past director.
Last Thursday, a spokesperson for Giles said after exhibiting mild symptoms Wednesday, Giles, was tested for COVID-19 and received a positive result.
“The director has followed her doctor's orders, has been quarantining and notified all individuals with whom she has had close contact,” an agency spokesperson said Friday. “Staff members with whom the director had close contact are teleworking without any impact to agency operations.”