Friday, February 4, 2005

Ketchum seeks to dismiss lawsuit against Hall

Debate over councilman's legal fees could delay resolution

Express Staff Writer

A Boise-based attorney representing the City of Ketchum is seeking to dissolve the city's lawsuit against Councilman Randy Hall.

Jim Davis, appointed to represent the city by the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, a municipal insurer, has put forth a motion to dismiss an October "declaratory judgment action" that sought an opinion on whether Hall should be allowed to maintain two paid positions at Ketchum City Hall.

The motion—which was mailed this week to 5th District Court in Hailey—states that the city wants to dismiss the case "on the basis that there is no longer any (legal) controversy existing between the parties."

While the motion could bring to an end one of the more bitter and bizarre episodes in Ketchum politics, a swift dismissal of the case is not a certainty.

Hall's attorney, Ned Williamson, said Thursday that he will not agree to have the case dismissed unless the city agrees to pay all of the legal fees Hall has incurred in his defense of the city's actions. Williamson said the fees exceed $5,000.

"If the city pays Randy's attorney fees, in association with ICRMP, then the case would be over from our point of view," Williamson said.

The dispute between Hall and the city erupted last September, after Ketchum City Attorney Ben Worst asked Blaine County Prosecutor Jim Thomas to prosecute Hall for "multiple criminal and civil conflict-of-interest violations."

Worst alleged that Hall had violated Idaho Code because he was holding two paid positions with the city, an on-call firefighter/paramedic position with the Fire Department and a seat on the City Council.

Then, in October—as Thomas was still considering the request—the city, with ICRMP, filed a civil lawsuit against Hall. The suit alleged that "a real controversy" had surfaced over whether Hall's dual employment with the city violated state laws.

Hall, the City Council president, alleged that the suit against him was fostered by Mayor Ed Simon, a well-established political rival. Simon said the matter was initiated by the city's legal advisors.

Although Thomas ultimately declined to prosecute Hall, the city continued to pursue its litigation.

Weeks after the city suit was filed in 5th District Court, Hall filed suit against the city, alleging that its decision to sue him was invalid because it was made at an illegal City Council meeting, to which he was not called.

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

In December, however, Hall indicated that he would no longer accept pay for his work with the Ketchum Fire Department. Settlement talks ensued but broke down over a debate about what percentage of Hall's legal fees should be covered by ICRMP.

In January, Davis said he intended to pursue the suit "full bore" and hoped to have a ruling from the court before the end of this month. Although Hall had effectively diminished the controversy by stating he would decline pay for one of his two city jobs, Davis said he might be able to convince the court to render a legal opinion on Hall's status.

Then, this week, Davis said a decision had been made not to proceed with the suit because the city's complaint had been rendered "moot" by Hall's new status as a single-paycheck employee.

It appears the decision to seek to drop the suit came from ICRMP. Davis said he "did not make the decision" and Simon said "no one at City Hall has exerted any authority" over the case.

If Williamson agrees to dismiss the matter, the city's suit against Hall would be terminated. If he does not, 5th District Judge Robert Elgee on March 3 will be asked to rule on the motion for dismissal.

Hall on Thursday intended to deliver a set of invoices for his legal fees to Ketchum City Hall, Williamson said. If the city and ICRMP do not pay the entire sum of the fees, he said, he likely would not agree to immediately end the litigation.

Williamson said all of Hall's fees should be covered because the city initiated the dispute and then declined to allow any settlement discussions to occur until after the lawsuit was filed.

The Hall countersuit against the city is still open, Williamson noted.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, it is likely that frigid relations between Hall and Simon will continue. While some Ketchum residents have predicted a face-off between the two rivals in the November mayoral election, neither has announced an intention to enter the race.

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