$42,500 settlement OK’d by council in condominium case

In the long-running Ken Castner v. City of Homer case, the Homer City Council on Monday approved a $42,500 settlement with Castner and his attorney. The council met in executive session to consider a settlement offer from Castner’s attorney, Stephan Williams. Castner said he will receive $100 in the settlement, with the rest going to Williams for attorney and other fees.

“There was no benefit for either side not to settle,” Castner said. “This was a fair-and-square deal which relieved us both from litigation.”

Castner, a condominium owner, challenged in Superior Court the method by which the city assessed condominium owners in the Natural Gas Homer Special Assessment District. The city tried to assess condo owners by tax parcel. Castner argued that under state condominium law, condos should be assessed according to the owner’s share in a condominium association. In January 2014, Kenai Superior Court Judge Charles Huguelet ruled in Castner’s favor, writing that the city’s assessment with respect to condominium owners is arbitrary and unreasonable.”

However, the city tried to argue that Huguelet’s decision applied only to Castner’s condo, and not all condo owners. Castner filed a motion asking the city to show why it should not be held in contempt of court for failing to comply with Huguelet’s 2014 order. Castner pleaded his case pro se, or acting as his own attorney, and hired Williams when he filed the motion regarding contempt of court.

Last April, Huguelet delivered a harsh rebuke to the city, ordering it to comply with his order “and immediately cease using the method for imposing special assessments on condominium unit owners that was ruled unlawful by the order.” 

The city then sought judicial review by the Alaska Supreme Court, but on May 21 the court issued a one-word response: denied. With that avenue cut off, the city then complied, and entered negotiations with Castner on a settlement.

The settlement still has to be approved by Huguelet. The agreement with Castner and the city is a stipulation to the court that both parties are satisfied.

The motion to meet in executive session had not been listed on the regular agenda. Citing an emergency to consider the settlement before Williams left the state, the council agreed to add the motion to the agenda, passed the motion and met in secrecy. Alaska law allows governmental bodies to meet in executive session regarding matters of attorney-client privilege and which might affect the finances of the city.