TONASKET — City Attorney Mick Howe reported legal fees paid by the city defending council members Christa “Teagan” Levine and Jill Ritter in a recall petition brought forward by residents Brenda Jones and Charlotte Betchan could not be recovered.
Howe reported attorney fees amounted to more than $17,000 when attorney Dale Crandall represented the case in both Okanogan County Superior Court and the state Supreme Court , where Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson’s dismissal ruling was affirmed on appeal.
Howe reported that while the Supreme Court ruled favorably for the city, “it cost the city in excess of $17,000 which could have gone to better causes for the city,” said Howe, adding regarding recovering the fees, “The answer is ‘no.’ In the state, we follow the rule where most cities bear the fee.”
Howe said one exception to the rule would have been if the Supreme Court termed the lawsuit “frivolous,” the city could have recovered fees.
“In my opinion this is a case that was frivolous, however the Supreme Court did not use that term, but gave some examples,” said Howe, with the Supreme Court pointing out the appellants, Jones and Betchan, “did not specify or in any way cite what was in error.”
“To me, that means it was frivolous,” said Howe. “Additionally, Jones (and Betchan) failed to challenge any of the court’s rulings on the sufficiency of the charges. To me, that means it was frivolous. It goes on and on. I think it is the definition of what a frivolous action is."
Howe said that while the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision in its entirety, “unfortunately, they did not use the term ‘frivolous,’ so I doubt this is something we are going to recover.”
Howe next addressed the mayor and council on the city not responding to records requests for a report submitted to the city in June by Steve Brown.
“The city has not responded; or responded but asked for extended time for different reasons,” said Howe. “This is overdue for being released as a public record but needs extensive redaction. There is a lot of confidential information in there.”
Howe said he would be meeting with Clerk Treasurer Alice Attwood to discuss hiring an outside person to make the redactions and “be able to release that report in the very near future.”
Howe said the report had been forwarded to the State Auditor’s office and the prosecutor’s office, but neither office had taken any action on any of the items, nor had any criminal action been commenced as a result of the report.
Howe also reported attempting to hire someone to complete code enforcement work on two cases Howe and the late Building Inspector/Permit Administrator Christian Johnson were working on. Howe said he was still trying to find someone to complete the work, “If anyone has anybody in mind who can serve as an expert in code violations.”
Howe said he received the 16-page preliminary document the City of Tonasket was working on with proposed code changes. Howe suggested council either set up an ad hoc committee to work with he and Attwood to ready the document for adoption or plan a work study session with the entire council.
“It’s a good document to start with, but I think it’s going to require a lot of massaging to get it the way you want it,” said Howe.