Judge scolds attorney in records case

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

By Nate Sunderland

BLACKFOOT — A judge chided Blackfoot School District 55 and attorney Dale Storer on Friday for failing to provide him with documents about a $105,428 contract payment and an agreement with former Superintendent Scott Crane.

“I have never had this kind of a public records case before where prior to the hearing I haven’t at least received a sealed envelope with the documents in it,” Sixth District Judge David Nye said. “How come I don’t have them?”

Storer didn’t answer Nye’s question directly.

Instead, the former Idaho Falls city attorney said he would hand over the documents following the late-afternoon hearing.

“I would have appreciated you giving them to me earlier so I could have ruled today, but that’s going to be tough to do because I haven’t seen the documents,” Nye said.

As a result, Nye said his decision would be delayed — possibly for several weeks.

Storer declined comment after the Friday hearing.

The case centers on the contract payment District 55 made to an unnamed individual July 2.

Former Blackfoot school teacher Joyce Bingham sued the school district to force disclosure of the unnamed individual. The Post Register joined in the legal action.

Details of the separation agreement with Crane, apparently reached during the school board’s April 24 executive session, also are sought. Crane announced his retirement after that meeting, effective June 30.

Bingham’s attorney, Jared Harris, and the Post Register are seeking documents related to the payment, as well as the agreement with Crane.

Both parties are acting on the assumption that the issues are related.

District 55 has refused to release any documents pertaining to the payment or the Crane agreement.

During the Friday hearing, Harris and attorney Steve Wright, representing the Post Register, argued that the documents because “clearly fall under the purview of public records.” They also questioned the agreement with Crane.

“These documents are presumed open to the public for a very good reason, imagine what could transpire if this kind of conduct (during an executive session) can be permitted,” Wright said. “Hypothetically … two board members could execute an agreement behind closed doors … approve it, hide the payment for it and the public would never know.

“That is not appropriate conduct.”

Storer countered that the documents are protected by Idaho law governing personnel matters. Once the judge reviewed the documents, Storer said, it would be clear that the documents sought are protected “personnel records” and not available for public review.

Some new information did come out during the hearing, however.

Storer said the agreement with Crane was to “wrap up various matters of his employment,” and not to hire Crane to do work for the district.

That contradicts the board meeting minutes, which stated that board members convened the 8-minute executive session for the purpose of hiring an employee. The minutes then state that the board reached an agreement with Crane.

“The purpose of the meeting was not to hire Crane because he was already an employee,” Storer said. “There were other discussions about the hiring of an employee.”

When Nye questioned why those discussions were not mentioned in the minutes, Storer repeated that hiring Crane was not the purpose of the meeting.

Nate Sunderland can be reached at 542-6763.

From the Idaho Falls Post Register

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