Independence Examiner, Tuesday 03/05/02

Counselor won't talk about Sunshine case

By James Dornbrook
The Examiner

Jackson County Counselor Jane McQueeny refused to answer questions from the County Legislature regarding how much the county spent defending the county in a Sunshine Law case.

A judge ruled that the county's Office of Human Relations and Citizens Complaints violated the Sunshine Law, and he fined its members.

The judge ruled last month that the defendants would not be assessed for the plaintiffs' attorney fees, totaling about $33,000. The judge was concerned that the county might not pay the fees if assessed to the defendants.

The plaintiffs are now challenging the judge's decision and have filed a new motion claiming that the county would be responsible for the fees if assessed to the defendants.

The plaintiffs say the county charter allows for the county to pay all court-ordered costs in any lawsuit against its agencies, employees or commissioners, if the case concerned the defendants actions in their capacity as agents of the county.

McQueeny said she didn't have to answer how much was spent defending the case, because the information was protected under attorney/client privilege.

"I'm saying that the Jackson County Legislature was not a party to that lawsuit. Also, the judgment is not final yet, so I don't want to discuss this," said Mc Queeny.

"It looks like we're going to test the Sunshine Law again," said Victor Callahan, chairman of the Legislature.

Legislator Ron Finley said he believed legislators were not asking for sensitive information regarding intimate details of the case, only how much was spent. He also asked McQueeny if the clients asked her to protect this information, or if this was her own initiative. The attorney/ client privilege is only valid if the client asks for the secrecy.

"I'm saying it's not in the best interests of the client or the taxpayers to discuss this in a public forum," said McQueeny.

"Did we pay the fines for your clients?" asked Callahan.

"I don't want to discuss this in a public forum," said McQueeny.

Legislator Dennis Waits then asked if McQueeny would be willing to discuss the issue if the legislature called a closed session. McQueeny said she might be willing to discuss this in closed session. Callahan said he wasn't sure if this was possible.

"I don't know if that's legal," said Callahan. "If we're not a party to this case, how can we call an executive session?"

There was no decision.

To reach James Dornbrook e-mail or call 350-6322.
To reach Darla McFarland e-mail or call her at 350-6321.
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