City Attorney Responds to Request for Mountain Water Legal Bills
Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos wants to see how much a private attorney is receiving in compensation for work on the Mountain Water Condemnation lawsuit, but says he has been blocked from seeing the information by city officials. Missoula Attorney Quentin Rhoades explains.
"The Mayor, the city attorney, and apparently the private attorney who has been representing the city in that matter, have not allowed Mr. Ramos to look at the details of the attorney fees or the billing statements that have been charged to the city, even though the mayor has been asking Mr. Ramos to prove those fees," Rhoades said. "Consequently he is a little bit confused about whether that should be a secret from him and whether it should be a secret from the tax payers and his constituents."
Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent replied to Rhoades’ arguments by referencing a recent Montana Supreme Court decision that revolves around protected attorney-client privilege.
“In Nelson v City of Billings, the Montana Supreme Court recognized that the attorney-client privilege as well as the work product privileges still exist, and they exist for Montana municipalities, because the case was a City of Billings case.,” said Nugent.
Rhoades argues that this information should be made public under the ‘right to know’ clause of the Montana Constitution and says the Montana Supreme Court has also “specifically rejected” the idea that attorney fees can be shielded under attorney-client privilege.
"It turns out that there is really no good argument that says attorney-client privilege should be applied to billing statements," Rhoades said. "I authored the letter at Jesse's request just to see if we can't get a conversation going about whether it is legitimate to pull the wool over people's eyes. The Mayor is constantly talking about transparency and if we are going to be transparent in financial matters then, I think, these attorney fees need to be reviewed by the public."
City Attorney Nugent said another reason the information is not being revealed is because the litigation has not yet been concluded
“The litigation is still going on” said Nugent. “The attorneys that represent the city have requested that it be attorney-client privilege and attorney work product privilege, and they have that information. We don’t have it in my office and I don’t know any city office that has it.”
Rhoades responded to Nugent by stating that Nelson v Billings does not apply.
“I’m surprised anyone would so contend. Since the city’s legal billing records do not fit the legal definition of attorney-client privilege or attorney-work product. Nelson obviously does not apply to this controversy. Any argument that the Nelson analysis would apply to non-privileged matters such as the city’s billing records is simply disingenuous.”