Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sun Valley OKs $14K more for legal fees

Total for personnel-related matters reaches $96,478

Express Staff Writer

Michelle Griffith

The city of Sun Valley is hemorrhaging money in the form of legal fees, with no firm end in sight.

At a meeting Thursday, the City Council unanimously approved the expenditure of up to an additional $14,000 to cover legal fees associated with subpoena issues for privileged documents and general litigation related to a public records lawsuit recently filed against the city.

“We need these $14,000 to properly protect the city from the legal assault we’re under in 5th District Court,” Mayor Dewayne Briscoe said at the meeting.

Briscoe said the additional money is to pay increased expenses incurred by Boise-based law firm Naylor & Hales, which provides special legal council to the city through attorney Kirtlan Naylor.

That will bring the total appropriated by the city since Nov. 5, 2011, for legal fees associated with personnel actions and lawsuits to $96,478.

Briscoe said the additional fees are to pay for two specific “measures.”

“The first is the Jim Donoval subpoena of the Patti Ball report,” Briscoe said. “The second is for the public records lawsuit.”

Donoval is former City Administrator Sharon Hammer’s attorney and husband. Hammer’s contract with the city was terminated in January with no stated cause. Both Hammer and Donoval have pending lawsuits against the city, including a $3 million suit alleging assault, defamation and wrongful termination of Hammer.

As part of that suit, Donoval has subpoenaed a report prepared by Boise attorney Patti Ball following an internal investigation of the city conducted by Ball late last year. Ball’s investigation was commissioned by former Mayor Wayne Willich and turned over to the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in January. Ball’s report is described in a Jan. 16 news release sent by Naylor to the Idaho Mountain Express on behalf of the city of Sun Valley as “an independent review of possible criminal conduct.”

The public records lawsuit mentioned by Briscoe was filed by Donoval on Aug. 20 naming both the city and the Idaho Attorney General’s Office as defendants. In the complaint, Donoval challenges the credibility of a forensic audit commissioned voluntarily by Briscoe’s administration in April to investigate potential fraud in the city’s financial affairs during fiscal 2011. The audit was delivered to the City Council on Aug. 24, but has not been released to the public.

The audit was subpoenaed by the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office on Aug. 28. Donoval’s suit seeks a court order allowing Donoval to inspect original documents included in the audit. Donoval claims that several documents included in the audit were forged and that the findings of the audit are therefore not credible. In a recent interview, Briscoe denied these allegations.

“When’s it going to end?” Councilwoman Michelle Griffith asked Briscoe.

Briscoe said the forgery lawsuit would be resolved in two weeks to a month. He said Idaho Cities Risk Management Program—the city’s insurance carrier—will soon take over the defense of Hammer’s $3 million lawsuit.

Griffith asked if the city could sue for damages to recover some of the money spent on legal fees.

Briscoe said that Griffith “raised a good point” and that the council should consider it in a couple of months after the current lawsuits are resolved—hopefully, he said, in favor of the city.

Brennan Rego:

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