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Cowles Publishing Company, A Washington Corporation v. the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners

May 4, 2007

COWLES PUBLISHING COMPANY, A WASHINGTON CORPORATION, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT-CROSS APPELLANT,
v.
THE KOOTENAI COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS, RESPONDENT, AND WILLIAM DOUGLAS, INTERVENOR,
AND IDAHO COUNTIES RISK MANAGEMENT PROGRAM UNDERWRITERS, INTERVENOR-CROSS RESPONDENT, AND MARINA P. KALINI, INTERVENOR. COWLES PUBLISHING COMPANY, A WASHINGTON CORPORATION, PETITIONER-RESPONDENT-CROSS APPELLANT,
v.
THE KOOTENAI COUNTY BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS,
RESPONDENT,
AND
WILLIAM J. DOUGLAS,
INTERVENOR, AND
IDAHO COUNTIES RISK MANAGEMENT PROGRAM UNDERWRITERS,
INTERVENOR-CROSS RESPONDENT.
AND
MARINA P. KALANI,
INTERVENOR-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the District Court of the First Judicial District, State of Idaho, Kootenai County. Honorable John R. Stegner, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Burdick, Justice

2007 Opinion No. 74

Stephen W. Kenyon, Clerk

The district court's order granting Cowles's petition for access to public records is affirmed and the district court's permanent protective order sealing the settlement agreement is affirmed.

Marina P. Kalani appeals from the district court decision holding that certain email correspondence between Kalani and William Douglas were public records and not exempt from disclosure. Cowles Publishing Company cross-appeals from a protective order permanently sealing the settlement agreement between Idaho Counties Risk Management Program Underwriters and Kalani. We affirm.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This case involves events surrounding the demise of the Juvenile Education and Training Court (JET Court) in early 2005 in Kootenai County. The JET Court was funded through a U.S. Department of Justice grant to Kootenai County and overseen by the county prosecutor, but after the JET Court failed to provide a quarterly report on its finances, access to those funds was temporarily suspended. The JET Court was then terminated. At the time of these events Kalani was the JET Court manager and her supervisor was Kootenai County Prosecutor William Douglas. Douglas hired Kalani in March 2004. When the funding problems became known to the public, Douglas defended Kalani and her management of the program; additionally, he decided to continue the program out of County funds, including Kalani's salary. The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners started an investigation into the JET Court program finances.

Meanwhile, the local press began printing allegations of an alleged improper relationship between Douglas and Kalani. They both denied these allegations. Additionally, as the press reported on the demise of the JET Court, the Spokesman Review quoted J.T. Taylor, the manager of the juvenile detention facility, as saying the issues around the JET Court revolve around "the 'inappropriate, unprofessional and unethical' conduct of Kalani and that she has 'significant character issues and questionable practices.'" Douglas responded to this allegation in a memorandum to Commissioner Rick Currie, calling Taylor's statements highly inappropriate and an unfair disparagement of the "character and reputation of a dedicated and professional member of [Douglas's] staff." Kalani eventually resigned as JET Court manager, and Douglas continued to defend her in the press.

Against this background, a reporter for the Spokesman Review made a public records request to the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners for all the email correspondence between Kalani and Douglas. The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners requested that Idaho Counties Risk Management Program Underwriters (ICRMP), its insurer, handle the request. The County then identified in a log over one thousand emails sent between Kalani and Douglas from February 17, 2004, to February 15, 2005, contained on Kootenai County's email system, produced 172 emails in full and information from 287 redacted emails, and withheld 597 emails. Cowles Publishing (the publisher of the Spokesman Review), then filed a Petition for Access to Public Records. The district court held that the emails were public record subject to disclosure. Kalani appeals this determination.

During the course of the litigation over the emails, several newspaper articles were published reporting that Kalani had settled a claim against Kootenai County through its insurer, ICRMP. Cowles had filed a public records request for the settlement agreement. ICRMP responded that it had made a $69,146.20 payment to Kalani. Then in its briefing to the district court, ICRMP stated that Kalani had a potential defamation claim against the County. During a hearing on the Petition for access to the emails, the district court became concerned that the amount of the settlement reported in the newspaper articles differed from the amount disclosed by the parties at hearing and in documents before the district court. Counsel for Douglas had provided the court with a copy of the settlement agreement. ICRMP intervened, seeking to preserve the confidentiality of the settlement agreement. The court issued a temporary protective order, and then issued a protective order permanently sealing the settlement agreement. Cowles cross-appeals this determination.

II. ANALYSIS

This case raises two distinct issues: whether the district court erred by determining the emails between Kalani and Douglas were subject to public disclosure under our public records law, I.C. §§ 9-301 -- 9-350 (the Act), and whether the district court erred by permanently sealing the settlement agreement between ICRMP and Kalani. We will turn first to the disclosure issue, and then address the sealing issue. Finally, we will review Cowles' request for attorney fees.

A. The district court did not err when it determined the emails between Kalani and Douglas were public records.

Kalani argues the district court erred when it determined that the emails between her and Douglas were public records. She asserts that these emails are not public records, but if they are, then they are exempt from disclosure under the Act. Finally, she argues that even if the emails are public records and are not exempt, she has a constitutional right to privacy ...


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