Two Billings attorneys will begin working for the Commissioner of Political Practices in a lawsuit against Republican state Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman.

Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl named attorneys Gene Jarussi and John Heenan as the state’s special attorneys general for the case scheduled for trial next year, according to documents filed Tuesday with the Lewis and Clark County District Court and other documents obtained through a public records request.

Motl said he chose the Billings attorneys because they were experienced and agreed to work for free. The attorneys’ contract stipulates a one-time fee of $10,000 to cover travel expenses and other costs.

“We’re lucky to have (Jarussi),” said Motl, who will still appear before the court as a primary witness.

The commissioner notified Gov. Steve Bullock and Attorney General Tim Fox of his decision to name the two special attorney generals in a letter dated May 18. Both officials told him that they were neither in support nor opposition to the decision, Motl said.

Jarussi has been a Montana trial attorney for over 30 years and is essentially the retired partner at the Bishop and Heenan law firm in Billings. In the past, Jarussi has made donations to numerous Democratic candidates, according to campaign finance records.

Heenan won a notable $45 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit last year against AT&T. He also has made donations to a handful of Democratic candidates. Asked about those political leanings, Motl said the case is beyond the point where any political bias is relevant.

“We’re in litigation now,” he said. “The decision will be made by the court.”

The commissioner’s case against Wittich stems from a Billings Republican’s complaint against her 2010 primary opponent and a conservative nonprofit corporation known as Western Tradition Partnership.

Internal WTP documents, obtained from Colorado and held by the commissioner, show illegal coordination between the corporation and several Republican candidates, Motl said.

Based on those documents and other information, Motl has issued decisions against nine Republicans, including Wittich. Several have negotiated settlements with the commissioner. Wittich has requested a trial by jury. It is scheduled to begin Feb. 22, 2016. Montana courts have the authority to remove a politician from office. If found guilty, Wittich could appeal.

After being elected in 2010, Wittich served as the Senate majority leader until 2014 when Belgrade voters elected him to the state House of Representatives.

Wittich did not return a request for comment Wednesday. He has previously denied any wrongdoing and called the allegations politically motivated.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.


Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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