By Lyndsie Kiebert and Zach Hagadone
Bonner County commissioners voted for a “limited release of information” in response to a public records request from the Reader regarding legal fees in the county vs. city of Sandpoint lawsuit over the Festival at Sandpoint weapons ban. According to the released documents, as of Dec. 19, 2019, the county paid Davillier Law Group $28,510.50 to represent Bonner County in the case.
The Reader had asked for “all legal fees paid” to Davillier in the specific case and a “sum cost to date” of the litigation, yet Bonner County responded that it “reserves the right to withhold this type of information in the future pursuant to Idaho Code.”
The portion of Idaho code cited lists “claims evaluations, investigatory records, computerized reports of losses, case reserves, internal documents and correspondence relating thereto” as privileged information, and that, “at the time any claim is concluded, only statistical data and actual amounts paid in settlement shall be deemed a public record unless otherwise ordered to be sealed by a court of competent jurisdiction.”
“However,” the county’s response continued, “the Bonner County Board of Commissioners voted for a limited release of information in the Bonner County v. City of Sandpoint litigation.”
Meanwhile, the city of Sandpoint has to date racked up $8,170.08 in fees to Lake City Law related to the case. The city hired the Coeur d’Alene-based firm to defend it in the lawsuit in September, then brought on Lake City Law Principal Partner Andy Doman to serve as city attorney in October.
Attorney Peter Erbland has taken lead in the case, which billing documents obtained by the Reader in a public records request cite as “Bonner County and Daryl Wheeler, Sheriff v. City of Sandpoint/Declaratory Judgment.”
According to those documents, the firm invoiced the city for $560, due Oct. 31; $6,690, due Dec. 1; and $920.08, due Jan. 4.
As litigation got under way in earnest in the fall, Sandpoint officials said that because the county sought a declaratory action in which no damages are paid, the city’s insurance provider would not cover the cost of its defense. Therefore, legal fees in the case will be paid from the general fund — “which is essentially property tax revenue,” Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said in September.
Though Stapleton said the city could not provide details on the time charged, the billings are “all inclusive of meetings, including teleconferences, paperwork, filings, travel, research, etc.”
Looking forward, it’s also hard to say how much those fees will increase and at what rate. Stapleton said the city is being charged at an hourly rate based on the work being performed.
“This will vary based on what is happening with the case,” she added.
Meanwhile, the case remains in limbo. A status conference originally set to take place in November ended up being postponed until Tuesday, Jan. 28, due to the judge falling ill.
“We are still planning on the status conference on Jan. 28,” Stapleton said. “It will lay out a more definitive schedule moving forward.”
The total litigation expense, combining county and city monies: $36,680.58.
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