By Lyndsie Kiebert
Bonner County’s lawsuit against the city of Sandpoint regarding The Festival at Sandpoint’s weapons policy is tentatively set to see a courtroom in late May, marking the latest development in a case that has gained national attention and underscored on a local level the polarizing nature of arguments surrounding gun rights and public spaces.
Legal counsel for both sides have been preparing discovery to present at the next hearing, when Kootenai County District Court Judge Lansing L. Haynes will also hear the city’s motion for summary judgement.
The case hasn’t had a hearing since Feb. 25, when Haynes denied the county’s request to stay the suit until it was determined whether the Idaho Legislature would address how firearms preemption law and lease law interact. Lawyer Amy Clemmons, representing the county on behalf of Davillier Law Group, told the Sandpoint Reader that “scheduling with the court on civil matters remains uncertain due to the coronavirus.”
She did confirm, however, that the parties are planning the next hearing for Tuesday, May 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the Bonner County Courthouse — provided that the Idaho stay-at-home order has been lifted.
According to a records request response the Reader received April 17, the sum cost to the county so far in the case is $71,893. Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer said that total is made up of attorney fees — paid to Davillier Law Group — and possibly fees paid to an expert helping with the case. The Reader did not receive a cost breakdown of the total before press time.
Meanwhile, attorney fees paid to Coeur d’Alene-based Lake City Law Group, representing the city, topped $31,434 as of the invoice payable May 1, obtained by the Reader in a public records request. That brings the combined city-county total to $103,327 spent on the case.
While COVID-19 has already affected court proceedings, it remains to be seen how pandemic-related economic hardships will affect municipal governments — a subject that the city of Sandpoint has begun addressing in its weekly City Council meetings, now held via video conference each Wednesday beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Bonner County Commissioner Dan McDonald told the Reader that the board has undertaken “some preliminary discussion with respect to the economic impacts of the reaction to the virus,” and that while it is still too early to predict effects on funding from the state, it is on the board’s “radar.” He said the county tends to underestimate the sales tax revenues that come in from the state each year, so the “actual may not be a big hit for us on its face.”
County officials are scheduling a conference call with the state in the coming weeks to discuss projections.
McDonald said the county has no plans to suspend the case against the city on account of finances. He said there is “money budgeted to continue forward [with the suit] for this fiscal year, and can carry that over into next fiscal year if necessary.” McDonald said any COVID-related impacts on revenue will be realized in the next fiscal year, and “will be figured into our budgeting process.”
“I don’t know if it’s possible to put [the case] on hold after the judge’s recent decision [to deny the stay], or if there is any wisdom to stretching this out any further than we need to. We need to have an answer to the interpretation of the law,” McDonald said, adding in a later email to the Reader, “we originally wanted to get this wrapped up quickly and get a judge’s decision so as to not further impede The Festival operations or planning. We still have a law that two parties are contending to have two different interpretations of. That is why we went for the declarative action, to finally get a formal legal opinion that would have the force of case law.”
When asked whether the county is as committed to the suit as it was a couple of months ago, McDonald said: “Yes, we are committed. Just because we are dealing with the pandemic doesn’t mean everything comes to a halt.”
Additional reporting by Zach Hagadone.
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