"Ultimately, I believe this case was politically motivated from the start, and I'm confident the court would have recognized that the County has consistently complied with the public records act in good faith every step of the way. Given that, I don't believe the people of Humboldt County should be on the hook for the excessive payout being agreed to here."
Here’s a little more on the settlement, which was filed today and is still waiting for a judge’s approval:
Still in question after the county turned over records in February were redactions that HumCPR attorney Allison Jackson said went too far. The county had removed details on travel, meal and lodging expenses in some cases.
The settlement indicates that two of the nearly 300 documents turned over will be restored in part by the county so that only attorney-client privileged information is removed.
Attorney Bill Bragg, who was hired to defend the county, said HumCPR agreed to limit the changes to two documents in the interest of saving time.
“They agreed to … focus on just the ones they were interested in,” Bragg said.
Per the settlement, the county also turned over some limited information about how much staff time was spent on particular litigation. HumCPR had demanded a full accounting, which the county said doesn’t exist.
Bragg said several county attorneys and planners kept time sheets that indicated the hours spent on lawsuits targeted by HumCPR’s request — but the practice was not standard procedure. After negotiation, those records, along with some accounting paperwork, were enough to satisfy HumCPR and lead to the settlement.
A dispute over public access to attorney’s fees appears to have ended this week with the county agreeing to pay the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights’ lawyer $100,000 for her costs in bringing a lawsuit against the county.
The supes voted in closed session Tuesday to approve a settlement negotiated between HumCPR and county counsel. Supervisor Mark Lovelace was the only dissenting vote.
In addition to paying Hum CPR attorney Allison Jackson, the settlement resolves a dispute over a public records act request filed in 2011. It wasn't immediately clear what the county ultimately agreed to provide, or what records HumCPR may have given up on.
It all started when Lee Ulansey — then the executive director of HumCPR, who stepped down from that position after being appointed to the county planning commission this year — asked the county how much it was spending on outside counsel in several ongoing land use lawsuits.
The most prominent of those was the county’s suit against Bob McKee and more than 30 others over subdividing the Tooby Ranch property near Garberville. Records released by the county this year showed more than $3 million spent on outside counsel during that particular legal battle, which is ongoing.
Despite a state appellate court decision late last year that favored HumCPR’s stance, the county and Jackson continued to debate precisely what information could, should and would be released.
The settlement agreement still needs approval from a Humboldt County judge.