Residents return home as crews battle fire north of Rehberg Ranch
A smoke column can be seen north of Rehberg Ranch on July 4, 2008. DAVID GRUBBS/Gazette Staff

The city of Billings spent $20,761 defending itself against a lawsuit filed by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.

That information was released by the city Tuesday in response to a records request from the campaign of Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is being challenged by Rehberg in this election year.

Rehberg and his wife, Jan Rehberg, sued the city over a wildfire at the Rehberg Ranch Estates subdivision in 2008, alleging that negligence on the part of the Billings Fire Department added to damage they suffered.

The Rehbergs dropped their suit last November, when their attorney explained that "politics have now been so injected into the case that the true substance of the matter can never be sorted out."

Christie Roberts of Billings, research director for Montanans for Tester, filed a records request with the city of Billings on Monday. On Tuesday, Deputy City Attorney Craig Hensel responded by fax, saying the city spent $20,761.60 defending the case.

Hensel explained that the lawsuit was forwarded to the city's insurance pool, the Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority, which hired Michele Braukmann, of the Moulton Bellingham law firm, to defend the city.

Hensel said the city was billed for 151.80 hours of Braukmann's time, for a total of $20,638.50, plus $123.10 in costs.