COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — The former city attorney for Coeur d’Alene has filed a lawsuit against North Idaho College, accusing three trustees and the college’s new attorney of fraud and of violating Idaho’s open meeting laws, reports the Coeur d'Alene Press.
Mike Gridley, who retired in March after 20 years with the city, filed the lawsuit Friday in his capacity as a Kootenai County taxpayer.
The civil complaint names trustees Greg McKenzie, Mike Waggoner and Todd Banducci as defendants, as well as the college’s attorney, Art Macomber. Gridley has asked the court to nullify any illegal actions made by the three trustees and forbid Macomber from practicing law in the county.
“The trustees at NIC and their lawyer have failed miserably in the simplest of open meeting laws,” said Gridley, who estimates he’s participated in around 500 public meetings. “That’s it.”
He referred to multiple possible open meeting law violations that occurred during board meetings the week of Dec. 5, which trustees are expected to attempt to correct when they convene tonight.
The alleged violations include Macomber’s hiring, which occurred Dec. 5.
Trustees voted 3-2 to hire Macomber on the spot, without prior notice or notation in the meeting agenda. In order to hire Macomber, trustees suspended NIC policies that required legal services to be put out to bid.
Banducci produced a fee agreement, which he and Macomber both claimed he had written. Days later, Macomber revealed during another meeting that he himself had penned the fee agreement, as well as two resolutions passed by trustees Dec. 5.
“They didn’t disclose prior communications or how they set it up to get this guy in,” Gridley said. “That’s a fraud on taxpayers.”
Macomber donated to the political campaigns of the three trustees who voted to hire him as NIC’s attorney, the lawsuit notes. In 2020, he donated $750 to Banducci and $250 to McKenzie. This year, he donated $250 to Waggoner.
“This stinks,” Gridley said. “It smells. It’s not right.”
Idaho Rule of Professional Conduct 7.6 prohibits an attorney from accepting a governmental legal engagement or appointment if the lawyer makes a political contribution for the purpose of obtaining or being considered for such appointment.
Gridley also alleges that Macomber is not qualified or eligible to be NIC’s attorney.
Last April, the lawsuit asserts, Macomber sold his law firm and promised not to practice in the areas of real estate and contracts within 500 miles of Coeur d’Alene, in accordance with Idaho Rule of Professional Conduct 1.17.
“The first thing (the board) hired him to do, for $325 an hour, was to review the president’s contract,” Gridley said.
The going rate for attorneys practicing educational or municipal law in the Coeur d’Alene area is around $200 an hour, Gridley said, which is what the college’s previous attorney earned.
Gridley has also filed a grievance to bar counsel for the Idaho State Bar based on Macomber’s alleged ethical violations.
As an attorney and as a Kootenai County taxpayer, Gridley said he felt obligated to file the lawsuit because elected officials must be transparent to their constituents.
“People need to play by the rules, including lawyers and elected officials,” Gridley said. “If they choose not to do the right thing, they will be dealing with me and others every single day. There’s no doubt.”
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