Friday, May 16, 2008

Hailey city attorney to defend pot initiatives

Lawsuit filed on the eve of another marijuana election


Attorney Ned Williamson argues a point during a discussion of the three marijuana initiatives approved by Hailey voters last year. Photo by Mountain Express

An anti-marijuana lawsuit filed earlier this month puts Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson in the ironic position of having to defend three controversial pot initiatives that he has staunchly opposed.

"I will do my best to defend those laws," Williamson told the Idaho Mountain Express in February, shortly after Hailey Mayor Rick Davis announced that the lawsuit would be filed.

Williamson was then asked if defending the marijuana initiatives would be difficult for him.

"I will do my best to defend those laws," he said again.

Wiliamson could not be reached this week for comment.

The lawsuit, filed by Hailey attorney Keith Roark on behalf of Davis, City Councilman Don Keirn and Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, seeks to have the obviously illegal pro-pot initiatives officially ruled illegal in Blaine County 5th District Court. The three initiatives, one to legalize medical use of marijuana, a second to legalize use of industrial hemp and a third to make enforcement of marijuana laws the lowest priority for the Hailey Police Department, were approved by Hailey's electorate last November.

Davis, Keirn and Gunter are the lawsuit's plaintiffs. The city of Hailey is the defendant. Williamson is the city's attorney.

Some Express readers seem amused by the irony of Williamson's defending the initiatives.

"Hey Ned bro, we'll be stopping by yer office to have a bull session and brainstorm about our strategy as we just heard yer gonna be our attorney in this initiative matter fighting for our cause," a Hailey reader, identified as Roy Sandefur, wrote in an online comment to a Jan. 30 story on the Express Web site.

But Ryan Davidson, the man who keeps putting pro-pot issues on the Hailey ballot, does not find the situation funny. Davidson, chairman of The Liberty Lobby of Idaho, told the Express in February that the nature of the lawsuit is contrary to the basic premise of the American judicial system.

"So they're willing to sue themselves," Davidson said. "It just sounds bizarre. Both parties can't have the same interest in the outcome. That's collusion and it's banned in the American justice system. It should be thrown out out of hand.

"Ned Williamson has been the chief critic on behalf of the city," Davidson said. "So if he's put in a position of having to defend the initiatives, how can he come up with a valid defense? It's a conflict of interest."

Davidson's four-year battle with the city of Hailey is like a chess game. The city makes a move, Davidson counters.

When city officials threatened a lawsuit last January, Davidson filed new petitions to put all three initiatives, plus a fourth one that was rejected by the voters in November, before the electorate again on May 27.

The fourth one, a backdoor approach to pot legalization, would require the city to tax and regulate sales and use of the drug in the city.

Mayor Davis said another vote on the initiatives doesn't make much sense to him, but "the court said we have to allow the elections." Davis was referring to an Idaho Supreme Court ruling in September 2006 when the high court ruled in Davidson's favor in a lawsuit against the city of Sun Valley. The justices held that municipalities do not have the authority to determine the constitutionality of citizen initiatives, regardless of the apparent illegality.

Davis said the timing of the lawsuit filing has nothing to do with the election.

"That's just when it all came together," he said.

Officially, the lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment from 5th District Court declaring the three previously approved initiatives illegal.

"The lawsuit primarily alleges that the three initiatives are illegal because they are contrary to the general laws of the state of Idaho and the United States," states a news release from the city of Hailey.

Davis said a court determination of illegality can likely be applied to three of the initiatives that will be put to the voters on May 27, but if the fourth one passes, another lawsuit may be necessary.

Pass or not? Davis isn't making any predictions.

"I have no idea," Davis said. "There's been a lot more publicity this time about the initiatives. I think people are a lot more educated now about the issues. But I don't know if it will have a different outcome or not."




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