Missoula Judge Lifts Stay on Mountain Water Legal Fees Case
The effort continues by a media company in Missoula to gain access to information regarding legal fees paid by the City of Missoula during its takeover of the Mountain Water Company.
Attorney Quentin Rhoades explains what happened on Wednesday.
“This is a case that’s been filed by Sinclair Broadcast Group in order to get information related to the fees that were billed to the City of Missoula in the Mountain Water Case,” said Rhoades. “Judge Robert L. (Dusty) Deschamps last year put a stay on the case while Judge Townsend was considering some fee issues in the underlying action where the city sued the water company. Judge Townsend resolved those issues back in August so we filed a motion with Judge Deschamps to lift the stay so we could go forward. The city opposed that motion, and just today we got an order granting the motion to recover that information.”
Rhoades explained why his client wants the information released.
“We believe that is public information that the Montana constitution requires be divulged, especially to the news media,” he said. “We’ve been thwarted in that effort for some years now, but now that Judge Townsend has made her ruling, we’re gratified that Judge Deschamps saw fit to allow the case to go forward so that the broadcast group and other news media will have a chance to report on it.”
Rhoades said he was aware of the argument presented by attorneys for the city that the information his clients requested was actually attorney-client work products and thus subject to attorney-client privilege.
“I understand their argument,” he said. “The problem is that courts have ruled that information that you put in your billing statement to your clients is not privileged, and to the extent that any of it may be privileged, it can be redacted. One of the important things to remember about these bills is that the lions share of that has gone out of state to Seattle and across the country to experts that don’t live in Montana and have nothing to do with Montana, much less the city of Missoula.”
Rhoades said he was filed a motion of summary judgment with Judge Deschamps.
“We’re asking the court to rule as a matter of law that these documents aren’t protected and that they’re public documents,” he said. “That decision will have to be made sometime in the future.”
Rhoades said he and his clients are gratified that the stay has been lifted, and wants the opportunity to persuade the judge that the public has a right to view the disputed documents.