Friday, December 08, 2023

Agreement raises tensions among BOCC

Staff Writer | November 16, 2023 1:00 AM

Tensions have again risen in Bonner County after an email between Commissioner Asia Williams and attorney Scott Bauer regarding a paralegal agreement was read during the Tuesday commissioners meeting.

The email — which was sent March 2 and obtained by Commissioner Luke Omodt via a public records request — showed Bauer asking Williams to give him a call to discuss information regarding matters she wanted Prosecutor Louis Marshall to assist on.

“I will function as a paralegal to Louis, gathering information and generating preliminary draft documents for Louis regarding any matters you want Louis to work on for you,” Bauer said in the email. “At all times, I will endeavor to ensure that any substantive opinions, recommendations or actions coming [from] the legal department are those of Louis Marshall’s and not my own. Nevertheless, I will provide substantial preliminary assistance to Louis on these matters for efficiency’s sake.”

The lawyer wrote that he assumed Williams had been fully advised of a pending $3 million lawsuit he has against the county. He asked for Williams’s “informed consent to use [Bauer] only in a paralegal capacity as an individual commissioner on matters that Louis Marshall approves are appropriate …”

Bauer ended his email by reiterating that he would be acting as a paralegal for Williams as she functioned in her “role of an individual county commissioner entitled to preliminary legal advice in [her] individual county commissioner capacity.”

To that, Williams’s email response was, “Sounds good, thank you.”

Omodt said he believes that Bauer has what is considered an “adverse relationship” with the county, which directly affects the commissioners as they are in charge of running the county’s business.

“The board of county commissioners was not aware of this [agreement] until I started submitting legal requests,” he said. “And yes, I have concerns. Two of the three of us believe that a lawyer who is suing Bonner County for $3.5 million of taxpayer funds is adverse to the county.”

However, Williams interrupted Omodt, claiming that everything he was saying was untrue.

“You’re actually wrong and it’s not appropriate to misrepresent something,” she said. “I don’t have a personal paralegal. Questions of the board from me don’t go to Scott Bauer. You’re making an assumption.”

Williams said that she and Marshall were attempting to find a way to utilize Bauer, a county employee, who is still receiving paychecks from taxpayer funds even while he is in the current legal situation against the county. Williams also accused Omodt of not giving the entire story, only portions, to insinuate she was doing something wrong when she claimed she wasn’t.

“It doesn’t matter that you don’t want the person working here,” she said. “They work here; they should do something for the county. [The agreement] did not work out. Don’t give snippets of stuff to say something’s wrong.”

Williams told Omodt that what he was doing was energizing a group of county residents with lies that would prove to not be beneficial to the smooth running of the county. The District 2 commissioner advised Omodt to speak with Marshall about the full story regarding the situation. However, Omodt said he had spoken with Marshall about the issue at hand, and Marshall had approved his statement.

In a follow-up email, Marshall agreed with Williams that Bauer was in fact not working as the commissioner’s personal paralegal.

“Mr. Bauer has not been assigned as a paralegal for Commissioner Williams presently,” he said. “I do ask all my deputies — including criminal deputies — for assistance in answering questions I have from time to time.”

Marshall said the only attorney assigned to the commissioners right now is Bill Wilson. In regard to his conversation with Omodt, the prosecutor said a few months back there were discussions about giving individual legal counsel to each commissioner. During those discussions, Marshall had proposed assigning Bauer to Williams and pairing Wilson with the other two commissioners.

“We never implemented that,” Marshall said. “Presently, we are giving advice to the entire board to make sure they are receiving the same advice and service to the extent we can.”

However, Marshall said that strategy has proven slightly difficult as he said two commissioners “don't have trust in [Marshall’s] performance in [his] office.”

“Unfortunately, in my 21 years of service to Bonner County, we have never had these problems,” he said. “I certainly hope there is a culture change and will continue to try to help this board.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, Williams said all Omodt was doing was creating further ammunition for Bauer’s lawsuit against the county and that she bet the attorney was watching the meeting and thinking about dollar signs.

“We’re just increasing the cost of somebody’s case by defaming them in this meeting,” she said. “You clearly are attacking an employee of Bonner County … It’s dangerous ground you’re treading on … I implore you to stop.”

However, Williams’s arguments did not seem to settle Omodt’s concerns.

“I have about 3.5 million reasons why, as a taxpayer to Bonner County, I am concerned,” he said.

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