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UPDATE 7 p.m.:

District Judge G. Todd Baugh this afternoon granted a preliminary injunction request by The Billings Gazette preventing the city of Billings from holding a closed-door meeting with its insurance carrier.

After the ruling, City Administrator Tina Volek sent an e-mail to a Gazette reporter saying the meeting had been canceled.

Baugh issued the order shortly after 5 p.m. after an attorney for the newspaper argued that a scheduled meeting in Bozeman on Wednesday between city officials and the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority would violate state law.

Volek and City Attorney Brent Brooks were scheduled to meet with Alan Hulse, the chief executive officer of the MMIA, to discuss resolving a dispute over a $1 million legal bill.

City officials told a Gazette reporter that the meeting was not public because it did not involve members of the City Council.


Original story:

Billings city officials are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Bozeman with the city's insurance carrier to discuss efforts to resolve a months-long dispute over who should pay a $1.6 million legal bill.

The dispute between the city and the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority began last July, after the insurance carrier asked the city to reimburse it about $1 million after it paid the $1.3 million jury verdict and $300,000 in attorney fees awarded Billings Police Officer Steve Feuerstein. Feuerstein sued the city, claiming his employer violated his state and federal constitutional rights.

The city rejected the MMIA request for reimbursement, and in September the City Council voted to attempt to mediate the dispute.

Late this morning, an attorney for The Billings Gazette filed a petition in District Court after a newspaper reporter was told that the meeting in Bozeman was closed to the public. The petition seeks an injunction preventing the city from holding the meeting behind closed doors.

Gazette attorney Martha Sheehy said state law requires the city to open such meetings to the public. City Attorney Brent Brooks told a reporter in an e-mail that the meeting was not open because it was not a meeting of the City Council or the MMIA Board.

Judge G. Todd Baugh was expected to rule on the newspaper's petition late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

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