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High court upholds urban renewal

The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld a Rexburg urban renewal project in a case that was being closely watched by urban renewal agencies around the state. In a unanimous ruling authored by Justice Joel Horton, the high court upheld a 7th District Court ruling rejecting a challenge to the project by Rexburg resident Kenneth Hart, who contended it was unconstitutional. Hart acted as his own attorney in the district court case, but was represented by attorney John Runft in the Supreme Court appeal.

At issue was a $6.3 million revenue allocation bond issue to fund a project including a public pool, community center and sports fields. Hart argued that a court couldn’t grant the Rexburg Urban Renewal Agency permission for the bond issue because the agency was just an “alter ego” of the city, and the city’s ability to go into debt is limited by the Idaho Constitution. The court held that “urban renewal agencies are not the ‘alter egos’ of cities under the law,” so the bond issue wasn’t unconstitutional. Nine urban renewal agencies filed amicus briefs siding with the Rexburg urban renewal agency; you can read the Supreme Court decision here.

Idaho high court vacates ruling against St. Al’s in big hospital case

The Idaho Supreme Court has tossed a lawsuit ruling that resulted in one of the largest jury awards in Idaho history, the AP reports. The court’s ruling today essentially sent a case between MRI Associates and Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center back for a new trial; a jury had initially awarded MRI Associates more than $63 million in damages, though a judge later lowered that to about $36 million. Click below to read the full story from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Bradbury will comply, but says rural drug, mental health courts will suffer

2nd District Judge John Bradbury says he’ll comply with the Idaho Supreme Court’s order to make Idaho County his main residence within three weeks, and swear to it in an affidavit. But he said the move could endanger the drug and mental health courts he operates in rural Clearwater County, in which 32 people are enrolled. “I can’t service those and drive the prairie every week in the winter, and none of the other judges are willing to take it over,” Bradbury said.

“I have said I will comply and I will,” Bradbury said. But, he said, “They’re making it as difficult as they can for me to do my job.” The twice-elected judge - who last year nearly won a race for an Idaho Supreme Court seat - said he operates the only rural mental health court in the state. “The rural counties have been the orphans of the judicial system in Idaho,” he said. Though his judgeship requires “actual residence” in Idaho County, much of his caseload is in Orofino, Bradbury said. “If I only had one trial in Orofino every three years, it’d be easy. I’ve had probably 40 trials there since I’ve been a judge.” He added, “I travel an average of five or six hours a week doing my job.”

Because of caseload and the topography of his largely rural judicial district, Bradbury has repeatedly proposed changing the state residency law for his judgeship to allow more flexibility on the judge’s residence; he presides in three counties, but the law requires him to live in one of those, Idaho County. The Idaho Judicial Conference has endorsed the change unanimously three times, but the Supreme Court has declined to propose the change to the Legislature each time. “They won’t agree and they won’t give a reason,” Bradbury said. “What conclusion can you draw from that except it’s personal?”

Justice Jim Jones, writing the decision for the court majority that found Bradbury in violation of the residence law, wrote, “While the Legislature’s decision as to which district judge position will be funded and where it will be located may not always coincide with what is ideal from an administrative standpoint, it is not for the courts to second guess or circumvent such decisions.”

Idaho justices grill lawyer for former justice candidate

Idaho Supreme Court justices had sharp questions today for Michael McNichols, the Lewiston attorney who represented District Judge John Bradbury before the high court, challenging a move by the state Judicial Council to suspend him for not living in his district. Bradbury maintains he does live there - when elected judge, he bought a house in Grangeville, has his homeowner’s exemption there, registered to vote there and votes there, and lives there when he is in Grangeville, at least one day a week. But he also has a home in Lewiston.

Justice Warren Jones questioned whether that was enough. “If I happened to have a home in five different counties,” he said, would he be deemed to live in each? He also noted that someone could live in Boise but have a lake house in McCall in which they spent each weekend, and asked if that meant the person resided in McCall. Chief Justice Daniel Eismann asked if perhaps “the Legislature simply didn’t want judges to be traveling late at night.” To that, McNichols responded, “What the Legislature  wanted was for the judges to go to the county where the business was, and do the county’s judicial business, and Judge Bradbury does that.” McNichols argued that the Judicial Council apparently confused the legal concepts of residency and domicile - the law merely requires the judge to reside in his district. It doesn’t say the judge must reside there full-time, or reside there and nowhere else, he said. At one point, McNichols said, the Judicial Council told Bradbury that he must “stay” in his Grangeville home. “That means he can’t go out of his house … can’t go to the store, can’t go to the post office … most importantly, he can’t go to the courthouse.”

Justice Jim Jones said small communities wanted local judges - not carpetbaggers who just showed up in town to decide cases. “The judge was going to be right there sleeping with all the neighbors,” Jones said. McNichols said the state owes Bradbury a definition of what “reside” means before it charges him with violating that. “You come out with a definition, Judge Bradbury will adhere to it, and he’ll comply,” McNichols told the justices. “But he’s entitled to have that definition before he’s punished for violating that.” He also said, “The Judicial Council apparently thought he had to sleep there every night. That’s the reason he’s being put through these proceedings at the risk of his elective office.”

Bradbury made a statewide splash in 2008 when he ran for the Idaho Supreme Court and nearly defeated newly appointed Justice Joel Horton; Bradbury got 49.9 percent of the vote to Horton’s 50.1 percent. Horton isn’t sitting on the case; retired Justice Wayne Kidwell is sitting in instead. Attorney Keith Roark is representing the Judicial Council. He told the justices, “This is a bewildering case.” It’s all about the judge being there when needed to give a defendant a fair trial, he said. He discounted arguments that the Judicial Council was biased against Bradbury. “Judge Bradbury is either actually residing in the county or he isn’t,” Roark told the court. The only other possibility, he said: The law is unconstitutionally vague. The justices had some pointed questions for Roark as well; he said Bradbury is inviting the court to “open up a can of worms” by getting into details about what residency means, by specifying days per week or anything like that. “I wouldn’t go so far as Justice Jones by suggesting that they were expected to sleep with the neighbors,” Roark said, sharing a chuckle with Jones.

Idaho chief justice named to national drug court ‘Hall of Fame’

Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Eismann has been named to the National Drug Court Hall of Fame, the highest honor given by the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, which represents more than 2,300 drug courts nationwide. As a district judge, Eismann founded the Ada County Drug Court a decade ago; it’s now had more than 600 graduates, 80 percent of whom have had no new criminal charges. The courts focus on integrating criminal justice procedures and drug addiction treatment, with the goal of stopping the “revolving door of crime, victimization, and incarceration by drug addicted criminal defendants,” according to the Idaho Supreme Court. Eismann also pushed for expansion of drug courts to all seven of Idaho’s judicial districts and broadening the model to include mental health courts.

Idaho now has 55 of the special “problem-solving” courts; other states have used Idaho as a model. The award Eismann received is officially called the Stanley M. Goldstein Hall of Fame Award, named after the Florida judge who established the nation’s first drug court 20 years ago. Click below to read the full press release from the Idaho Supreme Court.

High court: Anonymous tip not enough

An anonymous tip about a fight, of which no evidence was found, didn’t provide reasonable suspicion for two Coeur d’Alene police officers to block in and arrest a man for drunken driving while he was parked in the parking lot of an apartment complex, the Idaho Supreme Court has ruled. The case involves an incident on the Fourth of July in 2005, at 1:30 in the morning; defendant Christopher Willoughby successfully got a magistrate court to suppress all evidence from the two officers’ contact with him that night. The state appealed to district court, then to the state Court of Appeals, and then to the Idaho Supreme Court; it lost at every point. The state argued that the officers could legally detain Willoughby as either a suspect or a witness to the reported fight, though they found no evidence of any fight. “An anonymous tip alone cannot supply the requisite basis for reasonable suspicion,” said the unanimous opinion, written by Justice Joel Horton. You can read the full opinion here.

Court: 4X Rapist Not A ‘Violent’ Perv

The Idaho Supreme Court says the state’s method of classifying violent sexual predators is unconstitutional and has ordered that the label be removed from a man who admitted four rapes. Tuesday’s ruling from a divided court came in the case of Jason C. Smith, who was sent to prison for the 1998 rape of a 15-year-old girl in Twin Falls County. Before his release in 2005, Smith was referred to the Sexual Offender Classification Board to determine if he should be classified as a violent sexual predator, according to the ruling. The board - after reviewing a psychosexual evaluation and other tests - decided he was likely to commit more crimes in the future and should be considered a violent sexual predator/Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Am I the only one who thinks this is a crazy decision that could give this creep enough cover to reoffend?