By Zach Hagadone
Two weeks after a district judge ruled in favor of the city of Sandpoint in the lawsuit brought by Bonner County over The Festival at Sandpoint’s no-weapons policy, the city filed a motion Sept. 16 asking the court for $93,965.55 in costs and attorneys fees stemming from the suit.
“The interests of justice would be well served by assessing these costs against Plaintiffs given that the Court found their arguments to be unpersuasive, vague and speculative, and without merit,” the city’s legal counsel, Lake City Law, wrote in one of the supporting documents to its motion.
Specifically, the city is asking for $1,206.55 in costs connected with filing and witness fees, copies of depositions and online legal research — the latter described in the document as “necessary and exceptional.”
“Such costs should be allowed because the claims and arguments propounded by Plaintiffs in this litigation were so exaggerated and farfetched that Defendant had to perform extensive legal research to determine whether there was any merit to such claims and arguments,” the city’s counsel wrote.
Beyond those costs, the remaining $92,759 encompasses attorneys fees.
According to an itemized accounting of the city’s legal costs dated from Sept. 30, 2019 to Sept. 16, 2020, four attorneys and one paralegal worked a combined total of 469.15 hours on the case. The cost of those working hours could add up quickly. For instance, during one five-day period in early June, one attorney alone worked 27.6 hours on the city’s reply brief and researched cases cited in the plaintiffs’ response, amounting to a bill of $5,520.
City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the Sandpoint Reader in an email that the county has 14 days from the date of the filing — which will fall on Sept. 30 — to file an objection with the court.
“We expect the court to consider the request in the next 30 to 60 days,” she wrote.
Bonner county commissioners deferred comment to legal counsel. Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer also declined to comment Sept 23 in a text message to the Reader, writing that, “Bonner [County] is still reviewing its legal options and has made no decisions related to payment of attorney fees at this time.”
The cost of the lawsuit to taxpayers became a cause for concern among area residents even as it was being filed in September 2019. Letters to the editor and social media posts for months criticized the suit as an unnecessary expense that would cost city ratepayers on both sides of the litigation.
Shortly after the suit was filed last fall, Stapleton confirmed that the city’s insurance provider would not cover the legal costs because it was a “declaratory action” that did not carry specific financial penalties or damages.
“City General Funds will be used to cover associated defense costs, which is essentially property tax,” Stapleton said at the time.
Meanwhile, Bauer told the Reader in a September 2019 email that “the cost of litigation are born by the County not any outside insurance company.”
According to a records request received Sept. 18 by the Reader, the county has to date paid its legal counsel, Davillier Law Group, a total of $145,529.65 since the suit began. Should a judge rule in favor of the city’s motion to receive attorneys’ fees and costs from the county, its total expenditure on the suit could rise to $239,495.20.
Based on the city’s filings with the First District Court, which name Bonner County and Daryl Wheeler in his capacity as elected sheriff, Idaho Code specifically allows for the recovery of costs and attorneys fees from one municipal authority to another.
“In any civil judicial proceeding involving as adverse parties a governmental entity and another government entity, the court shall award the prevailing party reasonable attorney’s fees, witness fees and other reasonable expenses,” the filing stated, quoting from Idaho Code 12-117(4).
What’s more, citing the amended complaint, filed by the county in late January, “both parties have acknowledged that an award of attorney fees in this case pursuant to [Idaho Code] would be made to the prevailing party,” city’s counsel wrote.
Additional reporting by Lyndsie Kiebert.
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