Lawsuit against Jefferson County proceeds

The Post Co. can pursue a lawsuit that alleges the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners violated Idaho’s open meeting law.

Seventh District Magistrate Judge Scott E. Axline, in a ruling issued Friday, denied a motion filed by Jefferson County seeking to dismiss the suit.

In that motion, attorney John Ohman, who represents the county, argued that the Post Co., doing business as the Jefferson Star newspaper, did not have legal standing to challenge a commission decision that prevented a Jefferson Star reporter from attending a Nov. 14 meeting. The Post Co. also owns the Post Register.

At the time, commissioners declared the meeting an “executive session” that was not open to the public. During that closed session, commissioners made the decision to have Jefferson County Prosecutor Robin Dunn pay back to the county about $18,000 in legal fees. Dunn had charged those fees to defend the county in a federal lawsuit brought by Eagle Rock Sanitation. A Jefferson County spokeswoman said Tuesday that Dunn had not yet repaid the money.

The court’s ruling read: “If, in fact, the (meeting) violated Idaho’s open meeting, which for purposes of this motion the court must assume, it appears to the Court that (Post Co.) does have ‘distinct palpable injury’ … and also a ‘fairly traceable’ causal connection between the claimed injury and the challenged conduct. Therefore, the Court finds that the Plaintiff (Post Co.) does have standing in this matter.”

In a separate legal action, The Post Co. also challenged an Oct. 28 commission meeting. But Axline dismissed that action because the challenge was not made within 30 days of the meeting, as required by state law.

No court date was set for the lawsuit and Post Co. attorney Steven Wright said Tuesday he remained open to a possible settlement, “depending on the terms.”

“It was not our desire or wish to have to file this (lawsuit) in the first place,” Wright said. “Our primary goal here was to (ensure) the commissioners abide by the correct rules. The citizens of Jefferson County need to have the confidence that the commission is following the rules and doing things in the open.”