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Cascade County Commission approves attorney over election lawsuit

Election Vote
Posted at 9:06 AM, Jun 14, 2023

CASCADE COUNTY — At the June 13, 2023, Cascade County Commission meeting, commissioners Jim Larson and Rae Grulkowski approved the retainment of an attorney to represent the County and Clerk & Recorder Sandra Merchant in a lawsuit filed by Eliot Merja. Commissioner Joe Briggs was not able to attend the meeting.

The legal costs of the attorney will fall to the county as the Montana Association of Counties (MACO) Defense Coverage Policy will not cover the legal matter.

At the June 7th County Commission meeting, the commissioners were presented with the legal counsel of Elizabeth “Lilla” Lung of Berg Lilly law office. Lund is currently in defense of Cascade County and Merchant in litigation filed by the Great Falls Public Library.

Carey Ann Haight, the Chief Civil Deputy County Attorney for Cascade County said at the work session, “It makes sense to have Lilla’s services expanded to cover this litigation. again, because this is something that's not covered by MACO. The county must contract with the council separately. This representation is a formal revision of that.”

On Tuesday, June 13, 2023, the county commission motioned to approve the consent agenda, and the financial obligation of legal representation will fall to Cascade County.

Berg Lilly submitted a letter to the County Commission outlining the terms of legal representation, which can be found here on page 92 of the Commission Packet.

Berg Lilly wrote in the letter; Lund’s hourly rate is $225.00 per hour and the paralegal bills are rated at $90.00 per hour. Other attorneys, legal professionals, or consultants may perform work for Cascade County, which will be billed to Cascade County at that individual’s hourly rate. Berg Lilly’s hourly rates may be adjusted each year. Any adjustment will be reflected on Cascade County’s bill.

It also stated that Cascade County will be billed for Court costs, courier fees, and copying and faxes. They also charge for the costs of extraordinary legal research, travel expenses, wire-transfer fees, credit card fees, and other expenses directly related to its representation to Cascade County.

Berg Lilly will also bill Cascade County once a month, via email only unless requested a mailed statement. The statement will offer a detailed outline of expenses incurred.

If Berg Lilly has to take legal action to collect amounts due from Cascade County, Cascade County agrees to pay all reasonable costs of collection, including all interest, expert witness fees, and attorney’s fees.

The letter was signed, by Elizabeth W. Lund.

Before the motion was made to approve the consent agenda. Two attendees were welcomed to public comment, Shannon Wilson, a Cascade County Resident stated, “Look at the rationale of hiring attorneys to fight this thing when I know it was just a small election. Wouldn't it be cheaper just to hold the election again?”

Richard Liebert who spent around 10 minutes expressing his displeasure said, “A taxpaying farmer like Eliot Merja… I find it ironic that he must contribute to the defense of the party that's allegedly infringed his rights.”

Following the Commission's approval, Liebert spoke in public comment pertaining to matters, not on the agenda to the staff working in the Cascade County Elections Office. He alluded to a petition submitted to the Cascade County Commission regarding the removal of the ES&S Ballot Count Machines.

The petition was presented to County Commissioners Joe Briggs, Jim Larson, and Don Ryan.

Liebert criticized that one of the elections office employees, Beatrice Devereaux Biddick signed the petition. He delivered a call to action to any of the employees or volunteers who signed that petition to present to the public a change of heart.

Click here to see the petition presented to the County Commission.

The main topic on the Public Hearing portion of the meeting was Resolution 23-25, “A resolution to modify the boundaries of Cascade County Election Precincts.”

It was motioned by both Larson and Grulkowski.

Every 10 years the State of Montana conducts a redistricting process through census data.

The updates come only to the State House Districts and county precincts inside the city limits of Great Falls.

A few differences came to the Black Eagle precincts as it’s designated its own town with a water district.

House District precincts are delegated at the state level. One major change came to the precinct surrounding Belt, which was formerly House District 30 and has been changed to House District 78.

House District 19 was also formerly south of Great Falls and has changed to primarily within the city limits.

“The one thing that they changed this year, as opposed to using population 18 years older to make the precincts we now use actual registered voters, which made our boundaries so much tighter. It's going to be much easier for people to actually follow where they are as far as their precinct." Tom Mital, GIS Coordinator told MTN News.

There is a 10-day process to approve the legal description which is the precinct boundaries. The Cascade County Elections Office has three days following Tuesday’s motion to approve the re-districting and submit it to the State.

To view the new re-districting map click here, and scroll to the last two pages.



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