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Caldwell takes aim at lawyer

Published on January 31, 2013 3:01AM

Last changed on February 28, 2013 7:50AM

Semanko says allegations designed to distract from issue


Capital Press

The city of Caldwell alleges a resolution passed by Idaho Water Users Association Jan. 24 in Boise opposing government takeover of irrigation facilities and water rights through eminent domain is in the self-interest of IWUA Executive Director Norm Semanko.

City officials said in a press release Jan. 22 that the resolution protects Semanko's self-interest arising from his position as a lawyer with the law firm representing Pioneer Irrigation District in its lawsuit against the city.

Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas and city attorney Mark Hinty did not return calls for comment.

Semanko said the allegations have no merit and are a distraction from the real issue -- the threatened takeover of Pioneer's irrigation system and water rights by the city.

In 2008, Pioneer filed a lawsuit against the city over what it contends are unauthorized drainages of city stormwater into Pioneer's irrigation system. In late November, the city filed an eminent domain lawsuit to take control of a 10,500-acre portion of Pioneer's system, including drains and water-delivery canals, water rights, and reservoir storage water.

Boise law firm Moffatt Thomas represents Pioneer in those lawsuits. Semanko, an attorney representing many parties in water issues since 1993, is an attorney of counsel to Moffatt Thomas. He said he is not a partner or shareholder in the firm, is not employed by the firm and does not represent Pioneer Irrigation District. His involvement and role in the law firm is limited, and the city is aware of that, Semanko said.

The city also said Pioneer's law firm, "notably now where Semanko is an attorney, stands to lose out on significant revenue if the fee scheme is stopped and the lawsuit ends." And it accused Semanko of coming out with the resolution to "protect the firm's revenue stream."

The "fee scheme" refers to fees paid to Moffatt Thomas for the processing of licensing agreements for obtaining written permission to alter, access, cross, or encroach upon Pioneer's easements or rights-of way.

The resolution opposing water takings by eminent domain came from the resolution committee and was passed by the Water Users members at the association's annual meeting in Boise.

Semanko said he is an employee of the association, taking direction from its board of directors, and doesn't set policy for the organization.

The resolution also asks the city to withdraw its lawsuit and to work cooperatively with Pioneer to resolve the issue.

"It's sad to see a proud city like Caldwell reduced to personal attacks," Semanko said. "We're going to keep focused on the issue. It's too important for Idaho and irrigated agriculture."

The city also accused Scott Campbell, Pioneer's attorney, of unethical conduct that harms Pioneer's patrons and Caldwell residents, citing "the scheme" by which non-negotiable fees were demanded for the processing of licensing agreements.

In 2009, the city and a handful of developers sued Pioneer, Moffatt Thomas and Campbell over those fees paid to "Moffatt Thomas or Campbell."

Campbell said that due to that pending litigation it is not appropriate for him to comment on the statements by city officials. He referred Capital Press to Boise attorney David W. Tony Cantrill, who represents Moffatt Thomas and Campbell in that lawsuit.

"Personal attacks on individuals have no place in litigation," Cantrill said.

"They serve no purpose other than to create anger and longstanding resentment."

He said the city is attempting to use of inflammatory language to distract from the real issue -- its attempt to take possession of portions of Pioneer's system in order to dump polluted storm water into a system meant for irrigation of valuable agricultural crops.


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