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Fact Checker: Tester, Rehberg ads ‘heat up’ over fire lawsuit

By Emily Adamson, KECI Reporter, eadamson@keci.com
Published On: Oct 21 2012 02:42:06 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

As the election inches closer, the race between Jon Tester and Denny Rehberg for Montana's U.S. senate seat continues to heat up. In this week's fact checker we look at ads on both sides about a 2010 lawsuit Rehberg filed after a fire in 2008 torched his property.

“Congressman Dennis Rehberg filed a lawsuit against the fire department, blaming firefighters for damage on his property,” says the ad paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

This is true. According to court records on July 2, 2010, Rehberg Ranch LLC., filed a complaint and demand for a jury trial against the city of Billings and the Billings Fire Department.

The suit claims crews ‘carelessly left the scene of a fire that had not yet been completely extinguished,’ and ‘failed to notify the property manager as promised.’

“It cost nearly $21,000 thousand dollars to defend the magic city,” says a news clip in the ad.

This is also true. The City Attorney's Office in Billings says the city's legal fees totaled exactly $20,761.60.

“A lawsuit was filed but not against firefighters,” says Denny’s wife Jan Rehberg in a ad paid for by Montanans for Rehberg.

While no specific firefighters were named in the lawsuit, the document was filed against the Billings Fire Department. Court records show in the suit the Rehbergs state the Billings Fire Department and the City of Billings are responsible for the actions of its officers and employees.

“And not for money, but to get city bureaucrats to change their policies so folks get notified before firefighters are pulled from a wildfire…” says Jan Rehberg.

The Rehbergs dropped the lawsuit in November 2011, so they never saw any money as a result. But part of the court filed complain says the defendants, the City of Billings and the Billings Fire Department, are liable in monetary damages to plaintiff, Rehberg Ranch.

NBC Montana dug through court records to fact check these ads