State v. Yzaguirre concerned the Ada County Commissioners going into closed executive session. The Idaho Attorney General challenged this action as violating the Idaho open meeting law. All meetings must be open to the public, unless an exception applies. The Court ruled in favor of the County’s argument that an attorney does not need to be present when officials use a “litigation exception” to go into executive session. The Court also ruled in the State’s favor, saying that the Commissioners broke the law by not making written minutes of the meeting. A recording wasn’t enough. So, a split.
Ada County’s attorney, Patrick Furey, has an opinion in the Statesman that implies that the County won hands down, and he decries the way the Statesman has reported the issue. Former commissioner, and a defendant in the lawsuit, Judy Peavey-Derr accused the Statesman of yellow journalism, and the other commissioners made similar improvident statements. They may get a chance to eat those words.
The case went to the Supreme Court on a motion for judgment on the pleadings after the State won in a lower court.
The district court granted the State’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, holding that I.C. § 67-2345(1)(f) applies only when a governing body is meeting with its legal counsel, and that the audio recording failed to satisfy the requirement in I.C. § 67-2345(1) that the vote to enter executive session be “recorded in the minutes.”A judgment on the pleadings means that the court decides the case based on what the parties allege. They assume that the non-moving party’s (here, the County) pleadings are correct, then decide the case on that. There is no development of the facts before the motion
So, the County had a partial win based on its allegations. The funny thing about allegations is, sometimes they’re wrong. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings. If Attorney General Wasden chooses, the State can litigate the case and try to develop facts that will lead to a different outcome.
If the AG proceeds, it will almost certainly lead to the Commissioners being placed under oath and questioned about what did happen in the closed meeting. Remember, the Commissioners met in a closed meeting with Boise Councilman Vern Bisterfeldt over a housing development issue. At the time the City and County were disagreeing, and a lawsuit could have resulted. (Thus, the litigation exception.) So this closed door meeting discussed a controversial housing development and included the potential opponent.
A third issue could also lead to a different outcome. The law at issue allows the litigation exception when litigation is pending (it wasn’t) or “where there is a general public awareness of probable litigation.” Whether such a general public awareness existed has not yet been determined. If not, the County loses. The Supreme Court described the situation:
In the executive session, the Commissioners and Councilman Bisterfeldt discussed relations between Boise City and Ada County which had become strained over the issue of a potential subdivision approval in the county and the impact of county development on the cost of city services. The meeting did not relate to pending litigation, but the Commissioners claim that the topics discussed were the subject of probable future litigation.The problem for the Commissioners is that the matter hadn’t been reported much, if at all, and it’s very doubtful that there was a “general public awareness.” If this gets litigated, this looks like a loser for the County.
I wonder if the Commissioners really want to testify about this. I wonder if they think it’s a good use of taxpayer money to continue to pay the private, not county, attorney to defend a $450 fine. This case is not the unqualified win Furey would have you think it is, and it is far from over.