Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Court: Sun Valley did not withhold records from Donoval

Former administratorís legal counsel alleged city forged some documents

Express Staff Writer

   Allegations of public records forgery and withholding from attorney Jim Donoval against the city of Sun Valley have been dropped by the Idaho District Court of Appeals in a July 22 decision.
    Donoval and his wife, Sharon Hammer, a former city administrator for the city of Sun Valley, have waged legal battle against the city since Hammer’s termination in January 2012 for allegedly violating city policies.
    Donoval claimed that he received incomplete and forged city documents after filing three public records requests seeking copies of city records pertaining to credit card invoices and authorization sheets between October 2010 and October 2011.
    Amending his complaint under the Idaho Public Records Act, Donoval asked for Sun Valley to produce a subpoena, for the court to pursue felony criminal investigation of Sun Valley and for costs/attorney fees and relief related to the case, among other requests.
    However, the court noted that Donoval did not demand that the court require Sun Valley to make the documents available for public inspection.

Sun Valley City Attorney Adam King said that Donoval’s claims that the city destroyed and forged documents are “completely unfounded.”

    The court does not have authority for a criminal investigation of that nature and Donoval did not show that Sun Valley was improperly withholding documents, judges found. Email evidence between the plaintiff and city representatives shows the city attorney stating all records related to Donoval’s request were forwarded to him. The July 22 docket states that Sun Valley did not need to produce the original documents to the court nor penalize the city attorney because correspondence showed that records were not improperly withheld or any requests refused.
    “Even though the majority of the Appellate Court recognized that Sun Valley had no answer to the allegations that the documents I was seeking had been destroyed or falsified, for some reason the majority found that Sun Valley had no obligations to answer those allegations,” Donoval said in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express.
    The majority found that Sun Valley was cooperative with Donoval.
    “Sun Valley made available over 1,500 pages of documents within two days of an email from Donoval to the city attorney,” the docket states.
    Sun Valley had also requested payment for attorney fees, on the basis of Donoval frivolously pursuing legal action. However, the court determined that there was some evidence of the city holding onto the records Donoval sought, as well as being guilty of poor record-keeping.
    Judge David Gratton concurred with the judgment of the district court in denying relief to both the plaintiff and the defendant. It passed as a majority decision.
    However, Judge Karen Lansing dissented on the grounds of unauthorized and unsubstantiated decision-making. She argued that the documents in question were not authorized via the protocol set forth by former Mayor Wayne Willich, giving legitimacy to Donoval’s claims of forgery and mishandling.
    “In my view, the district court’s dismissal was erroneous because the court impermissibly resolved issues of fact by making findings unsupported by any evidence,” Lansing wrote.
    She felt a summary judgment was uncalled for, since there was material fact that could influence the findings, and that the ruling allowed Sun Valley to “escape its obligation.”
    As a final footnote, Lansing did say that the “rambling” and “unfocused” nature of Donoval’s complaint caused the district court to “lose its way” in the proceedings. She noted that Donoval did not “even expressly request the only relief authorized for a public agency’s violation of the public record laws, an order to compel Sun Valley to produce the allegedly missing records for Donoval’s inspection.”
    In his response to the Idaho Mountain Express, Donoval said he will file a petition to clarify, reconsider and rehear the ruling. He said if the Appellate Court doesn’t reconsider, he will posit the case before the Idaho Supreme Court to seek a reversal.
    Sun Valley City Attorney Adam King said in an email to the Idaho Mountain Express that Donoval’s claims that the city destroyed and forged documents are “completely unfounded.”

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