Bonner County gun suit sees further delay

Judge concerned how 2020 Festival cancellation affects lawsuit

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

Bonner County’s lawsuit against the city of Sandpoint regarding The Festival at Sandpoint’s weapons ban policy is yet another hearing away from a decision, as Kootenai County District Court Judge Lansing L. Haynes on June 19 requested further briefing from both parties regarding the justiciability of the case in the wake of the 2020 Festival cancellation.

The core issue in the suit is whether it is legal for the city to allow The Festival to ban guns at its events, which are held on public property at War Memorial Field. The city has long argued that The Festival is free under its lease agreement to set its own security policies. Others have argued that the city is barred by Idaho law from prohibiting firearms on any public property, and therefore cannot convey that right to a third-party — lease agreement or not. 

Meanwhile, Haynes, who was set to hear counter-motions for summary judgement at the June 19 hearing, said he was unclear whether the court had the authority to rule on the manner if the 2020 Festival — for which the lease in question was created — had been canceled.

“This court is very concerned about acting on an issue that is not squarely before it — even one of great interest or one of interesting academic value,” Haynes said. “But without a 2020 Festival, should I be making a decision at all?”

Amy Clemmons of Davillier Law Group, representing the county, argued that the facts in the case hadn’t changed with The Festival’s cancellation, and that the city had expressed intent to sign a similar lease with the nonprofit in 2021. Therefore, Clemmons said, a declaratory judgement is still needed.

Peter Erbland of Lake City Law Group, representing the city, said The Festival’s cancellation only adds to Bonner County’s lack of standing in the case.

At the request of Haynes, legal counsel for both sides will provide a briefing on the justiciability of the case in regard to the 2020 Festival cancellation to be submitted by Friday, July 24. The next hearing in the case had not yet been scheduled as of June 23.

Though both lawyers agreed to the additional briefing and resulting postponement, Erbland did note mounting costs to the city and urged the court to make haste.

“I can point out that there have been continued delays in this,” he said.

In response to a request by the Sandpoint Reader for the “total legal fees paid to Davillier Law Group specifically for work on” the suit regarding The Festival weapons ban, Bonner County reported a total of $93,325.50 spent on the case as of June 4. 

The city received an invoice from Lake City Law for $7,120, to be paid by June 4, and $12,120 due July 1. 

That brings the combined price tag for the suit to nearly $150,000 as of June 4, and up to about $155,000 in early July.

The suit brought by Bonner County isn’t the only one looming over the city of Sandpoint in response to The Festival’s gun policy. Area residents Scott Herndon and Jeff Avery, along with Boise-based gun rights lobby group Idaho Second Amendment Alliance and the Second Amendment Foundation, of Bellevue, Wash., filed their own suit in district court May 29 alleging the city violated the Constitution and state law by allowing The Festival to ban weapons at Memorial Field.

According to court records, summons were issued to the city and The Festival — both defendants in the case — on June 11, though both were listed as unserved as of June 12. Judge Barbara Buchanan voluntarily disqualified herself from the case June 22, leaving Judge Haynes as the judicial officer for Case CV09-20-0692.

It was unclear as of press time what comes next for the Herndon et al. case. As Herndon told the Reader in an email June 1, “I don’t think we are going to be able to accurately predict a judicial timeline. However, we are well prepared to stick to the core issues raised in our complaint and pray to proceed at the most expeditious pace of the court given everything else going on in Idaho right now.”

Additional reporting by Zach Hagadone.

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