November 9, 2007 in Idaho

Transcript: Douglas sought advice from dead man

Erica F. Curless Staff writer
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Douglas
(Full-size photo)

The lake expert Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas consulted before joining a lawsuit about Sanders Beach actually died a decade before the alleged interview.

Court documents show that the expert, Spokane attorney E. Glenn Harmon, died at least 10 years before Douglas says he contacted him in 2004 about the location of the high-water mark – the invisible line where private property ends and public land begins – on Coeur d’Alene’s popular Sanders Beach.

Douglas said Thursday he knows Harmon is dead and that the court reporter inaccurately transcribed his statement during the June 28 deposition. Douglas plans to file a brief correcting the alleged error, in which he meant to say he consulted Harmon’s writings on the lake level.

In the deposition, attorney John Magnuson asked Douglas how he decided to join the Sanders Beach lawsuit. Douglas said he did research including reading previous court decisions about the level of Lake Coeur d’Alene and “driving it by Glenn Harmon, E. Glenn Harmon, who, as you know, for many years is the authority of the Lake by his representation of then Washington Water Power.”

“That’s not language I use, ‘driving by,’ ” Douglas said. “I would have said ran by or consulting by. John (Magnuson) knows I wasn’t ‘driving it by’ Mr. Harmon when he was long ago deceased.”

Yet neither Douglas nor his attorney corrected the deposition when the court reporter sent it to them for editing, said Magnuson, who represents the Sanders Beach property owners.

Douglas says he never was given an opportunity to correct the transcription.

In court documents filed Sept. 28, three months after the deposition, Douglas’ attorney, Kirtlan Naylor, wrote that Douglas “made his decision to join in the lawsuit only after doing research and interviewing an expert on the matter.”

Douglas’ deposition indicates that Harmon was the only expert contacted.

An obituary in The Spokesman-Review states that longtime Spokane media attorney E. Glenn Harmon, 80, died in August 1994. Harmon represented The Spokesman-Review and Spokane Chronicle.

In an Oct. 18 affidavit, Magnuson states that he called the Washington State Bar Association, which informed him that Harmon died in 1992.

Douglas’ deposition is part of a lawsuit filed by the Sanders Beach property owners who are suing Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County in federal court for about $250,000 in damages and legal fees. They claim the city and county filed a baseless lawsuit against them in 2004, asking a judge to determine the legal high-water mark at Sanders Beach.

The suit also alleges that the city and county violated the waterfront owners’ civil rights by adopting a policy to take over Sanders Beach and make it public without compensation.

Magnuson said Douglas’ claim that he “interviewed” Harmon helps show that the prosecutor got the county involved in the lawsuit with limited knowledge of the facts and legal standards.

“I think it certainly supports the inference that the motivations in bringing the lawsuit were not purely altruistic,” Magnuson said.

He declined to comment further on the case, which is still pending after failed mediation talks in October. Both the city and the county have filed motions to dismiss the case.

The city and county initiated the Sanders Beach lawsuit in 2004 to get clarity on where private property begins so they could enforce trespassing laws on the popular shoreline. No court had made the exact determination, causing annual disputes between property owners and people using the beach.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in September 2006 that the invisible line is no higher than the summer level of the lake, or an elevation of 2,128 feet. That essentially eliminated all public access to the beach that has been used by locals for a century.

Attorney Mike Haman, who represents the city, said he doesn’t think the Harmon reference has any bearing on the case.

“I don’t think that’s what (Douglas) meant,” Haman said. “I don’t think he had a séance and brought Glenn back.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email