County serves city in Festival gun suit

Taxpayers to bear full costs on both sides of litigation

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

It’s official. Bonner County filed a complaint Sept. 18 in District Court against the city of Sandpoint, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in the matter of the firearms prohibition at War Memorial Field during the annual Festival at Sandpoint concert series.

According to the 18-page complaint, “Sandpoint’s direct regulation, and regulation by lease creates a cloud of uncertainty, and a chilling effect, with regard to the right to exercise Idaho rights, and the enforcement of Idaho law, under the Idaho constitution and Idaho statutes on public property in Bonner County.”

The issue has simmered for more than a month, with Commissioner Dan McDonald leading the charge from the county, contending that the city has no legal authority to allow the Festival to ban guns at publicly-owned Memorial Field, which the nonprofit leases for two weeks each year.

“I can confirm that we were served yesterday,” Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton told the Reader in a Sept. 24 phone conversation. “Up to this point, there’s been a lot of talk about a suit against us, but this was the service and filing of a suit against us.” 

Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer confirmed that the complaint was served. Further questions for the commissioners — who were out of town at a conference and could not be reached — were forwarded by Bonner County Deputy Clerk Jessi Webster to D. Colton Boyles, the Davillier Law attorney representing the county in the case. Boyles did not respond by press time.

The Sandpoint City Council is prepared to hire its own outside counsel at a special meeting set for 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 26 in the Council Chambers at City Hall. According to Stapleton, the city plans to retain Peter Erbland of Lake City Law Group in Coeur d’Alene. 

Erbland, who earned his law degree from Gonzaga University in 1978, has been peer-selected for inclusion in “Best Lawyer in America” and “Mountain States Super Lawyers” listings. A fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, Erbland is also a member of the National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals, whose Idaho Chapter has recognized him for mediation and arbitration.

Details of Erbland’s contract will come out of the council discussion Sept. 26. 

According to a Sept. 24 letter from Lake City Law to the city, and contained in the City Council agenda packet, Eberland’s standard rate is $300 per hour, but he offered to lower that to $200 per hour while his paralegal bills at $100 per hour. He anticipated that one of his partners would assist in the case, billing at the same rate as his own. Rather than a retainer, Eberland suggested he could bill the city on a monthly basis. 

Regardless of the terms of the contract, Stapleton confirmed that city taxpayers will bear the full costs associated with the case. 

“We did receive a letter from our insurance company yesterday that we would not be covered under our insurance in this matter because it is a declaratory action,” she said. “City General Funds will be used to cover associated defense costs, which is essentially property tax revenue.”

Declaratory actions do not carry with them specific damages. In a different kind of suit, with claims for damages, insurance would most likely cover the associated costs.

 In this case, according to the council agenda packet, the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program — the city’s insurance carrier — “has denied coverage due to only declaratory and injunctive relief being sought.”

“[The declaratory action] does not specifically come with associated financial penalties for the city, however there will be costs by both the city and the county by hiring legal counsel to represent both entities in this matter,” Stapleton said. 

Likewise, Bauer told the Reader in an email, “the cost of litigation are born by the County not any outside insurance company [sic].” McDonald stated on Facebook in early September that Davillier has been retained for $150 per hour.

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