Petition seeks disclosure of public records

From the Bonner County Daily Bee

SANDPOINT — A former prosecutor is suing Bonner County to force the release of documents pertaining to the county’s retention of outside legal counsel.

Phil Robinson’s petition also seeks $10,000 in attorney fees if the county does  not release the materials and a $3,000 civil penalty for improperly denying the public records requests.

Robinson argues in the petition that the denials were illegal, frivolous, malicious and made in bad faith.

The 18-page petition was filed in 1st District Court on Wednesday. The county, the county commission and commissioners Cornel Rasor, Mike Nielsen and Lewis Rich are each identified as defendants.

Bonner County officials do not comment on pending litigation.

Robinson, a former elected and appointed prosecutor who is in private practice, filed three public records requests for meeting minutes, resolutions, contracts and payment information related to the hiring of independent legal counsel.

Each of the public records requests seek the same information, although they cover different time spans in 2012.

Prosecutor Louis Marshall, Robinson’s successor in office, denied the requests on grounds they were exempt from public disclosure because they involved attorney-client privilege.

“Please be advised that any and all future requests regarding the same subject, and for any time period, are hereby deemed denied as well and will receive no response from this office,” Marshall said in the final denial letter to Robinson.

Robinson argues in the petition that it’s impossible to claim such an exemption when the matter of outside legal counsel was discussed in open session and reported by the media.

“Further, the discussion of same in open public regular meetings and workshops, budget meetings, and budget hearings, waives any potential for Respondents to claim exemption privilege, and specifically attorney-client privilege,” Robinson said in the petition.

Commissioners have openly discussed the use of outside counsel to defend a lawsuit filed by the developers of a fly-in housing development at Sandpoint Airport, de-list caribou as an endangered species and to judicially confirm financing options for completion of the embattled courthouse remodel.

The board also took up a requests earlier this year by Clerk Marie Scott and Treasurer Cheryl Piehl to set aside $50,000 to $100,000 to hire independent counsel to represent them in conflicts with the county commission.

Scott and Piehl argued the prosecutor’s office could not adequately represent them because the office already represents the commission.

Robinson was widely considered to be Scott and Piehl’s pick for outside counsel. Commissioners approved $15,000 to appoint special counsel, but said the funding could not be used to obtain advice on how to sue the county.

It’s the second time this year the county has been sued over denied public records requests. The Kootenai Environmental Alliance filed suit earlier this year to flesh out the county’s ties with conservative activists. That action is still pending.

From the Bonner County Daily Bee

Not an IDOG member yet?