Incumbent Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy is facing an estimated $60,000 in legal fees after surviving a nearly year-long challenge to the November 2009 municipal election.
Kennedy was personally named as one of the defendants in a lawsuit alleging election fraud by Jim Brannon via his attorney Starr Kelso and hired his own legal counsel. The City of Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County (which was later dropped) had their own attorneys.
Brannon lost to Kennedy by 5 votes. After a 11 months of private investigations into the election and motions and countermotions filed in Kootenai County First District Court, Brannon gained only two more.
Retired Judge Charles Hosack, who presided over the six-day trial last month, ruled Tuesday evening that Brannon and Kelso failed to prove that the outcome of the election had changed. In his thorough 20-page ruling, Hosack never indicated he thought the suit to be frivolous, which would be a needed component for Kennedy to seek attorneys fees from Brannon.
Kennedy attorney Scott Reed, who is out of town, called The Inlander to discuss the ruling. Reed says he did an estimate of legal costs some months back.
“My estimate then was $40,000 and that was only me,” Reed says. With the addition of second attorney Peter Erbland, “I think it would be in the vicinity of $60,000 or $70,000 at least.”
Reed says it’s unlikely Kennedy has any avenue to collect legal fees from Brannon.“The judge treated their complaint as a legitimate complaint,” Reed says.
Kelso had argued strenuously that there were enough queasy moments in the sausage making of an election that the judge should order a do-over. Erbland argued just as strongly that Idaho law doesn’t allow for do-overs: either the outcome is changed, or it isn’t.
Brannon supporters at the opencda.com blog portray the ruling as part of what they describe as a corrupt “powers that be” paradigm in the Lake City. One poster at the site even accuses Hosack of good-ole-boy collusion in his ruling.
Reed, however, says this:
“I think the thing that really came through is that they hired two investigators almost immediately and they were looking for people who had voted illegally [for Kennedy]. We hired an investigator in April and we were looking for some illegal voters who would have voted for Brannon.
“In all of our investigations on both sides, we ended up identifying four voters who shouldn’t have voted. When you are talking about 6,325 voters [in the election] and you only find four, it’s astonishing how carefully the election was run.”