Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ketchum v. Hall case to be revived

Settlement derailed by debate over payment of councilman's legal fees

Express Staff Writer

A lawsuit filed last year by the City of Ketchum against City Council President Randy Hall is being carried forward, after the two parties failed to agree on the terms of a proposed settlement.

Jim Davis, a Boise-based attorney representing the city, said this week that he is planning to revive the case against Hall, primarily because negotiations over Hall's attorney's fees could not be brought to an acceptable resolution.

"I'm moving forward with the litigation," Davis said. "I'm no longer negotiating."

The move by Davis comes after an announcement last month that the two parties were close to settling the bizarre and sometimes-bitter legal dispute.

The battle between Hall and the city erupted last September, after Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst asked Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas to prosecute Hall for holding two paid positions with the city, an on-call paramedic position with the Fire Department and a seat on the City Council.

Worst had received an opinion from the Idaho Attorney General's Office that led him to believe Hall's dual-role employment status constituted a violation of state conflict-of-interest laws.

In October—as Thomas was still considering the request—the city filed a civil lawsuit against Hall seeking a court opinion on whether the councilman had violated any state laws.

The lawsuit was filed in cooperation with the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, the city's insurer. ICRMP hired Davis to represent the city in the case.

Although Thomas ultimately declined to prosecute Hall, the city continued to pursue the civil case.

Weeks after the city suit was filed in 5th District Court in Hailey, Hall filed suit against the city, alleging that its decision to sue him was invalid because it was made at an illegal meeting.

At a subsequent City Council meeting, Hall's three council colleagues voted unanimously in public to validate their first decision to sue him.

Hall has alleged that the actions taken against him are the work of Mayor Ed Simon, a well-established political rival. Simon has said the matter was initiated by the city attorney, who last summer started investigating whether Hall could hold two paid positions at City Hall.

In early December, Ned Williamson, Hall's attorney, said the city lawsuit against Hall and the countersuit filed by Hall against the city were close to being settled out of court.

In essence, Hall offered to give up all pay from his job at the Ketchum Fire Department, making moot the city's allegations that he could be violating state law by accepting pay for two city jobs.

At the time, Williamson said ICRMP had tentatively agreed to pay approximately three-fifths of Hall's legal fees, which run in the thousands of dollars.

Hall said he would "fall on his sword" to resolve the dispute. He would continue to receive $15,000 a year as a city councilman but would give up all pay for responding to emergency calls.

With the settlement looming, Davis agreed to put the court case against Hall on hold.

However, Davis said, because Hall and Williamson would not accept ICRMP's offer for payment of attorney fees, the court must now be asked to resolve the matter. At the same time, he said, Hall has not made the anticipated changes in paperwork at City Hall that would effectively make him a true Fire Department volunteer.

Hall and Williamson could not be reached for comment.

"I'm going full bore," Davis said. "I feel like I've lost a month and I've let my client down."

Davis said he hopes to gain a court decision in February.

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