The Grant Count Court does not intend to cover attorney fees for Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer related to a public records lawsuit filed by The Oregonian newspaper.
In a unanimous motion Dec. 28, the court members said, after investigation, they will not pay the $78,000 in attorney fees requested by The Oregonian, or fees incurred in Palmer’s defense, because the lawsuit was not covered under the Oregon Tort Claims Act. They also requested county attorney Ron Yockim to further investigate the matter and said they may revisit it.
The Oregonian requested the attorney fees after suing Palmer, the sheriff’s office and Civil Deputy Sally DeFord, requesting a judge to declare certain records to be public records and to compel their disclosure, according to documents filed in Grant County Circuit Court. The Oregonian said in the documents Palmer refused to produce the records before the lawsuit, which entitles them to attorney fees.
Palmer, DeFord and their attorney have not responded to questions about the lawsuit and did not immediately respond to emailed questions about the county’s recent decision.
County Judge Scott Myers said attorney D. Zachary Hostetter, who represented Palmer and DeFord in the lawsuit, told the county it would be responsible for paying the attorney fees but, for a price, Hostetter would negotiate the fees on behalf of the county.
“(Hostetter) says, ‘Right now, you guys are going to owe $78,000, but I think I can get it down to half of that if you send me a check for $2,000,’” Myers said. “We have no intention of doing that because it’s not a county action we would be defending.”
District Attorney Jim Carpenter ordered Palmer and DeFord to produce the records when they were requested by The Oregonian, but the records were not released until the lawsuit was filed.
Myers said Palmer’s actions regarding the records were personal, not in his official duties as sheriff.
Oregon law defines a tort as a “breach of a legal duty that is imposed by law ... which results in injury to a specific person or persons for which the law provides a civil right of action for damages or for a protective remedy.”
Except in cases of malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty, Oregon law requires public bodies, such as the county court, to defend its officers for acts occurring in the performance of their duties.
Myers said the county’s insurance company has already indicated it will not cover the sheriff in this matter.
“They said they will not cover Palmer,” Myers said, adding the court requested the insurance company investigate covering DeFord separately. “We asked them to review whether ... Sally was acting as Deputy DeFord within the scope of her being an employee.”
Myers said Palmer offered to pay the fees from the sheriff’s office budget. Myers said, however, the sheriff’s office does not have the funds.
“(Palmer) thinks that because he has saved money in other budget years, he still has access to that money,” Myers said, adding unused funds revert back to the general fund.
He said the court would have to transfer funds to the sheriff’s office’s budget, but the unused funds from previous years were already reallocated.
“It doesn’t exist,” he said.
A hearing on the request for attorney fees is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. March 9 in Grant County Circuit Court.