Friday, January 13, 2012

Sun Valley litigants trade barbs

Hearing, documents show clash of perspectives

Express Staff Writer

Plenty of heat was generated in 5th District Court this week when attorneys for the city of Sun Valley accused City Administrator Sharon Hammer's attorney, Jim Donoval, of "judicial terrorism," but little light was shed on Hammer's lawsuit against the city.

A hearing Wednesday on a motion for an order to have Hammer reinstated to active duty with the city included testimony from former Mayor Wayne Willich.

Hammer is seeking reinstatement after Mayor Dewayne Briscoe placed her on paid, administrative leave last week. Willich had placed her on leave in November but returned her to active-duty status in late December.

Several issues were before District Judge Randy Stoker, but arguments on initial issues ran long, requiring the hearing to be continued to an as-yet-undetermined date.

Opposing attorneys locked horns over topics such as whether attorney-client privilege applies to a special investigator who also is an attorney and what value and weight the report she issued has.

Hammer and other city staffers were part of that internal investigation ordered by the city.

"I thought the report was flawed," Willich said.

Documents filed by attorney Kirtlan Naylor, appointed to represent Sun Valley in this matter by the city's insurance carrier, said the report plus Hammer's alleged actions on the job merited continued leave.

"Unfortunately for Plaintiff, her actions while reinstated during the final week of December 2011, along with the lack of any 'final and binding' decision on Former Mayor Willich's part gave Mayor Briscoe sufficient cause to place [her] on administrative leave," states a memorandum in opposition to a motion for a temporary restraining order filed by Naylor on Jan. 9.


Such alleged actions include retaliatory behavior, jeopardizing confidential information and access by Donoval, who is both her attorney and husband, to back offices of City Hall and documents stored there.

Willich maintained in court that Hammer did nothing to warrant continued leave, and Donoval argued that position should stand.

"I don't see how possibly the city can ... overrule what the prior mayor did," he said.

Naylor said Briscoe's actions did not overrule Willich's actions.

"He's taking his own action," he said.

Defense seeks sanctions against Donoval

On Monday, Naylor filed a motion for sanctions to be imposed against Donoval. In a memorandum in support of that motion, defense attorneys contended that Donoval has acted "in such a way that can only be properly termed as 'judicial terrorism.'"

That "terrorism," the memorandum continues, includes Donoval's correspondence with defense attorneys, defendants and others, "in that the content of most of this correspondence is full of threats of further potential lawsuits or public harassment if settlement demands are not met."

According to the motion, defendants are asking the court for a monetary penalty against Donoval to deter him from further "judicial terrorism," including harassing and frivolous correspondence and factually unsound motion pleadings, a protective order, which would require Donoval to submit documents to a judge so the court can establish whether the documents have "good cause," and attorney's fees.

The especially contentious nature of the suit was articulated by Stoker, who said that the case's filings so far indicate it will be "a fairly hotly contested matter."

Rebecca Meany:

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