Friday, March 4, 2005

Ketchum v. Hall suit settled

City agrees to end litigation and pay most of councilman's legal fees


A group of Ketchum city leaders this week agreed to dismiss their lawsuit against City Council President Randy Hall and to pay most of the legal fees Hall incurred in defending the suit.

In an eleventh-hour agreement Wednesday, March 2, just one day before the 5th District Court was scheduled to review the case, attorneys for both parties signed an order directing that the suit be dismissed and the city pay Hall $5,200 for legal fees.

The signed "stipulation to dismiss" was filed with the court Thursday morning and the litigation between the city and Hall was terminated.

Jim Davis, a Boise-based attorney representing the city, said the deal between the two parties also dissolves a countersuit filed by Hall against the city.

"It's done," Davis said.

Neither party was claiming outright victory Thursday.

During the dispute, Hall was forced to give up pay from one of his two city jobs. The city, however, never gained a court opinion on its allegations that Hall had violated state conflict-of-interest laws by holding two paid positions at City Hall, and is now being held responsible for the bulk of Hall's approximately $6,800 attorney bill.

"We're certainly happy that this is coming to a final resolution," said Ned Williamson, Hall's Hailey-based attorney. "It's going to be good for Randy and the city."

Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon expressed similar sentiments.

"I think we're ultimately coming to a conclusion that Jim Davis sought from the beginning," he said. "I don't believe it was a loss or a victory for anyone."

Simon said the decision to drop the case and pay the agreed-upon sum was made Wednesday by Councilman Baird Gourlay and Councilwoman Terry Tracy.

"The City Council doesn't want to draw a line in the sand over a small amount of money," Simon said.

The bitter dispute between Hall and the city erupted last September, after City Attorney Ben Worst alleged that Hall had committed "multiple criminal and civil conflict-of-interest violations."

Worst claimed 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.

In October, the city, with the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program, a municipal insurer, filed a civil lawsuit against Hall, claiming that " a real controversy" had surfaced over whether Hall's dual employment with the city violated state laws.

Hall alleged the suit against him was fostered by Simon, a well-established political rival. Simon maintained the charges were initiated by the city's legal advisors.

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.

The city's case started to unravel in December, when Hall announced he would no longer accept pay for his work with the Fire Department. Then, in early February, Davis said a decision had been made to seek dismissal of the suit because the city's complaint had been rendered "moot" by Hall's new status as a single-paycheck employee.

Davis, who was appointed by ICRMP to represent the city, promptly issued a motion to dismiss the city's case. Williamson needed to agree to the motion but did not do so immediately because he wanted the city or ICRMP to pay all of Hall's legal fees.

Simon said ICRMP will pay "part" of the $5,200 owed to Hall.

The conclusion of the Hall lawsuit marks the third time the city has been forced to pay out funds after engaging in a personnel dispute under Simon's watch.

In 2002, the city was ordered to pay $65,000 in damages in a legal dispute over Police Department staffing. In 2003, a First Amendment lawsuit filed against the city and Simon by onetime city employee Steve Linden was settled out of court, with the city agreeing to issue a letter of apology to Linden and to pay his legal fees.

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