Rehbergs suing Billings: “Not about the money”- apparently they just don’t “understand”

In the Billings Gazette yesterday, the Firegate shitstorm has apparently come up against an election cycle speed bump: bad idea to sue the city and state you represent.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit isn’t being dropped, it’s just being pursued “without monetary compensation”.

The Rehbergs, represented by Billings attorney Cliff Edwards, filed the lawsuit in July 2010, just before the two-year statute of limitations was to run out. At the time, Edwards said the lawsuit was filed to preserve the Rehbergs’ legal claims.

The lawsuit alleges that the Billings Fire Department breached its duty to protect the subdivision during a wildfire that started on July 2, 2008. The fire was quickly contained, but it flared again two days later and spread over a large area, forcing the evacuation of about 40 homes.

The lawsuit sat dormant for months, however, because it was never served on the city. Edwards said the lawsuit was not served because it was hoped that the two sides could resolve the matter outside court. A party filing a civil lawsuit has three years in which to serve the other side.

But negotiations stalled this year, and on Sept. 20 an attorney representing the city, Michele Braukmann, filed an official response in the court case, an unusual legal move she said was intended to “move the litigation forward.”

In the interview, Jan Rehberg said she was frustrated with the city’s refusal to provide information about the fire before the filing of the lawsuit, such as a final report about the suppression efforts.

“When you talk about transparency in government, it goes to all levels,” she said. “They have a lot of responsibility, and in exchange for that they need to be open.”

A day before the city’s response was filed, Edwards sent Braukmann a seven-page letter that included the Rehbergs’ offer to settle the case “without monetary compensation if the city agrees to adopt specific wildland firefighting standards within an agreed time frame, and subject to review and comment by my client and/or the public at large.”

If such policies are already in place, the letter states, the Rehbergs “would like to review those policies and have them amended, as necessary.”

But this is my favorite part (emphasis mine)

On Thursday, Braukmann said the city is “pleased” by the offer to settle the case without a demand for money damages, and the city is working to respond to the request for more information about the fire.

Braukmann said much of the information already has been provided, but the city would provide it again in a different format that might be easier to understand.

‘Nuff said.  Read it all here.