fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

County asks court to award legal fees from Southern Oregon Historical Society

A three-year legal battle has taken another turn: Jackson County will go to court to require the Southern Oregon Historical Society to reimburse it almost &

36;60,000 in attorney's fees.

The legal dispute between the two reached a turning point in April, when Circuit Court Judge Mitchell Karaman rejected the historical society's claims to a 54-year-old county property tax levy that generates 25 cents per &

36;1,000 of assessed value, or about &

36;2.2 million a year.

On July 25, the county asked the court for a judgment on &

36;55,191.50 in attorney's fees, plus &

36;1,628.17 in costs for copying, document preparation and other paperwork.

County Counsel Mike Jewett said the historical society would have done the same if it had been victorious, noting this is a common legal maneuver.

He said the county isn't playing hardball with the historical society but is merely attempting to recoup some of the fees paid to the Portland law firm of Preston Gates and Ellis.

If the county had tried to get every penny it spent on litigation, it would be seeking more than &

36;100,000, he said.

We've got taxpayers dollars that we're supposed to be spending wisely, said Jewett. It's our obligation to try and get some of it back.

Jewett acknowledged this could further hurt the organization, including 13 smaller historical societies in the county. The budget was cut by another &

36;100,000 this year.

But the county has been having its own financial troubles recently.

The county could use a little money, he noted.

Brad Linder, historical society executive director, said the historical society will likely contest the attorney's fees and has also filed an appeal over the April decision.

Linder said Medford attorney Douglas Schmor has been handling the organization's case at a reduced rate. Even so, Linder said the society still owes Schmor about &

36;20,000, which is being paid on a time-payment plan.

His organization and the smaller historical societies filed the original lawsuit because they have seen their combined annual budgets drop from &

36;2.2 million to &

36;1.3 million as the county has given them less money.

The county maintains that with the passage of Measure 50, a 1997 property tax initiative, it no longer has the obligation to fund the historical society.

As a result, Linder said the society has been forced to reduce the number of full-time workers from 37 to 19.

The historical society runs museums in Medford and Jacksonville, as well as Hanley Farm. It houses 80,000 artifacts, 750,000 historic photographs and 6 million manuscripts.

We're the storehouse of memories for Jackson County, said Linder.

Linder says it's sometimes difficult to drum up support when other governmental agencies are having financial problems.

Nobody's feeling real sorry for us, he said. School systems are going through some tough times.

Linder, who announced in the spring he planned to step down as executive director because of recent difficulties, finds the historical society's position with the county somewhat unusual, particularly since the county provides about 75 percent of its funding.

Even though it appears we're biting the hand that feeds us, we still have a good relationship with the county, said Linder.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail