Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak’s ‘private contract’ draws fire

From the Idaho Statesman

John Bujak says he doesn’t understand why his contract to prosecute Nampa misdemeanor cases has raised red flags with some county residents.

“I’m saving Nampa money. I’m saving the county money,” Bujak said. “I would think people would be thrilled.”

Bujak says he hopes to make up to $50,000 profit for administering Nampa city prosecutions.
“Everybody wins, including me, potentially. To the extent I’m able to make money and it helps me with my debts, that’s great.”

At least two residents have contacted the media protesting Bujak’s use of a private bank account to handle the $598,000 Nampa contract and wondering whether that move was related to personal financial problems. But the contract issue that landed the prosecutor in court is simply a public records request, said Erik Stidham, who is representing Nampa insurance agent Bob Henry in his efforts to get Bujak to release the records of his bank account that receives the city’s monthly payments.

“I thought it would take maybe a letter or two” to get those records, Stidham said. Instead, he and Bujak will face off in court Thursday for the first hearing on Henry’s petition to force Bujak to open the records.

Bujak insists the records are private, not public. Stidham says that claim is untenable, since the contract is not with Bujak as a private citizen but with Bujak as county prosecutor, a public official accepting city payment for use of county resources and personnel.

But Bujak said his handling of the contract is kosher under Idaho law, upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1987 when Kootenai County commissioners unsuccessfully challenged their prosecutor’s private contract to handle cases for the city of Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s not some strange, hokey relationship,” the prosecutor said. “It’s unusual, yes. But I think taxpayers appreciate innovative ways to save them money.”

He stresses that Canyon County commissioners and the Nampa City Council approved changing the contract in September so that money would go to directly to him instead of the county auditor’s office. He asked the Idaho Attorney General’s Office to weigh in on the issue, but it declined because of the pending litigation. Now it’s up to Senior Judge Kathryn Sticklen, assigned to the case to avoid a conflict of interest for 3rd District judges who routinely work with Bujak.

Stidham said he took the case because Henry’s previous attorneys at Hamilton, Michaelson & Hilty had a conflict: They held the Nampa prosecutor contract before Bujak underbid them last year.

Bujak would like to take over Caldwell’s city prosecutions, also handled by Hamilton, Michaelson & Hilty, but he said that idea was put on hold after Henry started questioning the Nampa contract.

He said he wants a global prosecutor’s office, a “paperless” operation that handles records electronically at significant savings to taxpayers. His contract with Nampa saves the city about $150,000 per year, he said.

And it saves several hundred thousand dollars for the county, Bujak contends, because he uses Nampa’s nearly $50,000 monthly payments to cover virtually all of his office’s non-salary expenses including scanners, laptops and paper.

But where that money goes is not visible in public documents, Stidham said, and that’s the central issue: His client wants to see the records of where the money goes, because “there’s a lot of money unaccounted for.”

Of the nearly $600,000 Nampa contract, Bujak says he expects only about $30,000 to $50,000 will go to him personally – possibly much less if unexpected expenses arrive.

Stidham noted that Bujak said while pursuing the contract that he would not personally profit from it. But Bujak said those statements referred to the fact that he and his Chief of Staff Tim Fleming were the only members of his office who did not get salary increases under the Nampa contract. He also said he initially did not think he’d be able to profit from the contract but later learned the law permits it.

Bujak said he didn’t pursue the contract in order to increase his income.

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

From the Idaho Statesman

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