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Motion to end attorney-client privilege fails

by LAUREN REICHENBACH
Staff Writer | November 18, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — In a special meeting Thursday, Bonner County commissioners failed to remove attorney-client privilege from all three individual members of the board from the moment the last sitting member took office.

The vote followed a controversial comment by one of the commissioners over the motion.

Commissioner Luke Omodt mentioned an email he brought up Tuesday in which he requested counsel from prosecutor Louis Marshall and attorney Bill Wilson. The email, he said, was then disseminated to the entire board, and it’s unclear where the email went from there.

“I did not give my consent for that, and I’m confused,” Omodt said. “Later, counsel told us that they have removed attorney-client privilege. So at counsel’s guidance, counsel has the ability to remove attorney-client privilege.”

Omodt said if counsel was going to rule to remove the privilege from him, then from the counsel altogether, he thought the board should vote to do the same. From the time he took office in January, he thought it best to “lay the cards on the table.”

Wilson stepped in, saying that with this board, a new process has to be used due to the fact that none of them get along very well.

“The process that we created was not to eliminate the attorney-client privilege between us and you, only that we would advise the board as one unit,” he said. “That’s the process we have now. When one of you requests legal advice, all of you get the answer. All of you get the analysis.”

Wilson said the board still has the attorney-client privilege between the prosecutor’s office and the commissioners, but the attorneys do not afford that to the individual commissioners. That, he said, was causing too much tension between the three.

Commissioner Asia Williams also commented, telling Wilson she did not want to play games. The agendized item, she said, was for removing the privilege for individual commissioners. This is an ongoing request to remove all of her privileges, she claimed; a way to get more confirmation to search in her email box.

“This is about an individual commissioner, it’s not about the board. When you answer, you’re actually giving back the form that I fill out. They get to see my question and they get to see my answer. So we shouldn’t play ‘ring around the …” Williams said, using a derogatory term for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. “This is stupid.”

After gasps of shock from the crowd and a stunned reaction by Omodt over Williams’ comment, she continued on, saying she is tired of acting like this is for the whole board when she believes it is a continued attack on her.

“You’ve been doing this nonstop and it’s not beneficial to the community,” Williams told Omodt.

Omodt then brought up the term “transparency,” a term that has been used quite often in regard to the board in the past few months. Transparency should apply across the board, he said, not just to some commissioners more than others.

Omodt stepped down from the chair and moved to remove attorney-client privilege for the individual commissioners board from Jan. 9, 2023, on and establish privilege only for the commissioners as a body.

Omodt voted yes and Williams voted no. Bradshaw voted to abstain, causing the motion to fail.

“From what I’ve seen, we don’t have any attorney-client privilege anyway,” he said.