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For the second time in two years, an attorney for the city of Red Lodge has filed libel lawsuits against two sisters who are vocal critics of city officials.

City attorney Rebecca Narmore sued Mary Cameron and Diane Dimich, claiming the sisters defamed her through Facebook posts and comments during public meetings. The lawsuit was filed in October before this month’s city elections, and was first reported by Carbon County News.

Both sisters are city council members, and the city’s insurance carrier, Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority, is paying for their legal defense.

Cameron’s current attorney, Jacqueline Papez, said the burden of proof for a public official like Narmore is high when claiming slander or libel.

“It’s kind of law school 101,” Papez said. “A public official has a pretty hard time bringing a defamation case.”

Public officials must prove defendants knew defamatory information was false or acted with reckless disregard for whether it was false.

The lawsuits come not quite two years after a previous attorney who worked part time for the city of Red Lodge filed his own slander and libel lawsuit against the sisters, seeking more than a half-million dollars in damages and lost wages.

That attorney, Joel Todd, dismissed his claims six months later.

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“When people question their government, they shouldn’t be afraid of retribution or intimidation,” Dimich said. “And that’s what it is.”

Narmore did not immediately respond to a message left Friday afternoon seeking comment.

Narmore sued the sisters Oct. 17, claiming the two made various statements that Narmore was corrupt, not qualified for her job and not abiding by Montana law regarding public governance procedures.

Both sisters filed responses on Thursday.

Cameron’s response included a counterclaim, saying among other things that as city attorney, Narmore abused the public process by refusing to place certain items on the city council agenda, overriding city council members’ requests.

Cameron is seeking damages, and both sisters are asking for a dismissal of Narmore’s lawsuit and for attorney fees.

Narmore, too, is seeking punitive damages and attorney fees.

Dimich recently lost a bid for mayor, with incumbent William Larson beating her 599 votes to 289. Cameron’s city council term expires in 2020.

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