Friday, February 24, 2012

Judge: City’s legal bills covered

Ruling says insurance should cover Sun Valley, not former administrator


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

The city of Sun Valley has seen a flurry of legal bills the first quarter of the fiscal year, but a judge's decision Tuesday means the expenses won't, at least for now, continue to spike.

Fifth District Judge John Butler ruled that the city's insurance policy with the Idaho Counties Risk Management Program covers it for legal expenses related to a lawsuit brought by former Sun Valley City Administrator Sharon Hammer.

Hammer filed a lawsuit in November against the city, Councilmen Nils Ribi and Bob Youngman, and City Attorney Adam King, alleging that Ribi repeatedly harassed her on the job. She also claimed that Youngman and King colluded in that effort, and asserted that the city should have done more to protect her from Ribi.

Hammer maintained that ICRMP's policy excludes claims relating to harassment, employment or disciplinary action, and therefore should not cover the city or other defendants in that suit.

She also asked a judge to rule that ICRMP extend legal coverage to her in regards to her suit against the city as well as a special investigation that the city undertook late last year.

"If ICRMP has chosen to provide legal coverage to the city of Sun Valley in direct violation of the provisions of the ICRMP Insurance Policy, it is only equitable that Ms. Hammer, as a co-insured, be provided the same courtesy." Hammer's attorney, Jim Donoval, stated in a court document.

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Butler ruled in favor of ICRMP and the city on their motion for summary judgment on Hammer's requests. A written opinion from the court was not available by Wednesday.

A news release issued by the city Thursday states that it "strongly maintained that this insurance lawsuit was wholly frivolous from the day it was filed, as was Hammer's previous lawsuit. ..."

"The city of Sun Valley applauds the Judge's well-reasoned decision and his reliance on clearly stated Idaho law. The city has had to expend excessive legal funds from its budget to protect its citizens and property owners against these unfounded lawsuits and will instruct its attorneys to seek an award of legal fees, if possible."

In a separate but related lawsuit, Donoval filed legal action against the city to review bank statements of all Sun Valley accounts and payroll records from Oct. 1, 2010, through Sept. 30, 2011, as well as other city communications.

Butler ruled earlier this month that the request is too broad and covers material that is exempt from such requests, but he allowed Donoval to inspect bank statements.

As for Donoval's next move, he said he'll review those documents before deciding.

"It depends on what I find in the bank statements," he said. "We'll see."

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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