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Sandpoint awarded attorney fees in Festival firearms lawsuit

Hagadone News Network | December 10, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — The city is being awarded $70,000 in attorney fees after prevailing in a lawsuit over a firearms prohibition at the Festival at Sandpoint.

Bonner County filed suit against the city last year in an attempt to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief calling for the city to be expressly prohibited from regulating firearms at War Memorial Field during the annual waterfront concert series.

Idaho law prohibits the infringement of Second Amendment rights on public lands. The city argued it doesn't prohibit firearms possession by patrons of the Festival, although it has defended the Festival's right to enact its own security protocols when it leases the facility.

The Festival contends it had to more rigorously enforce its longstanding weapons prohibition at the request of musical acts who perform during the concert series.

The city moved for summary judgment in the case earlier this year, arguing that there was no justiciable controversy between the city and the county because the concert series on Lake Pend Oreille was put on hold due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. The city further argued that the county, through Sheriff Daryl Wheeler, lacked standing to bring the action.

First District Judge Lansing Haynes granted the motion, finding that the county did indeed lack standing. The city sought $94,907 in attorney fees and $1,206 in court costs after it prevailed on the motion.

Bonner County objected to the award of costs and fees, disputing that the city was the prevailing party because the litigation provided guidance to Wheeler on how to proceed if concertgoers were cited for resisting the Festival's weapons policy.

That argument, however, was shot down by Haynes.

"Plaintiff's argument that the city is not the prevailing party is without merit in fact or law," Haynes said in a nine-page decision issued on Wednesday.

Moreover, the county's action sought more than clarification on the sheriff's duties as evidenced by its request for a judicial declaration striking down the weapons ban.

"Plaintiff achieved none of its objectives because the court determined that this lawsuit should not have been brought by the plaintiff, who had no standing to do so. The dismissal of this action gave the city the total relief it requested," Haynes wrote.

Although the case was decided on the narrow issue of standing, counsel for the the city said they were obligated to argue against the entirety of the county's claims. Four attorneys and one paralegal spent a 496 hours working on the case, according to court documents.

Although Haynes said the amount of time counsel devoted to the case produced high-quality legal work that resulted in a favorable outcome for the city, Haynes held that it was possible that fewer billable hours could have achieved the same result.

The undesirability of the litigation also factored into the award of attorney fees to the city, according to Haynes' ruling. Haynes said the litigation orbited a topic that is highly charged and emotional.

"The court finds some degree of undesirability in litigating a case that is likely to attract emotionally charged publicity," Haynes wrote. "Indeed much of plaintiff's argument assumed and referred to the likelihood of protests, and possible unpeaceful ones, over this litigation."

Counsel for Bonner County is appealing Haynes ruling on the matter of standing to the Idaho Supreme Court, records show.

A second lawsuit filed by the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance and the Second Amendment Foundation over the Festival weapons ban is scheduled to be tried 1st District Court in February 2021.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached at or followed on Twitter @KeithDailyBee