Eureka is fighting the questioning of Police Chief Andrew Mills by the attorney in the prayer lawsuit filed against the city about a “devotional” he reportedly led in January at a Peace Officers Prayer Breakfast, according to court documents.
An April 30 hearing is scheduled before Judge W. Bruce Watson.
City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson described the scheduled deposition as a “fishing expedition,” while attorney Peter Martin argued the case was broad enough to include events other than those specified in the lawsuit.
”I just don't think it's legally appropriate, as he's framed his complaint,” Day-Wilson said. “The complaint has to do with two things: one is invocation and the second is the mayor's prayer breakfast. It's limited to those two things.”
Martin said the issues are very similar.
”I think this is ... partially what we had before,” Martin said. “Before, we had a mayor accused of using city resources to promote religious activity. Now, we have a police chief who may be in the same situation.
”It seems to me it would be best if both of those questions could be resolved in the same case,” he added.
The peace officer event took place on Jan. 8 in the Harvest Church at 7 a.m., according to court documents.
In a protective order request filed with the courts, Day-Wilson argues Mills has no ties to the case filed by Eureka resident Carole Beaton nearly a year before he became chief.
Beaton filed the lawsuit against the city in January 2013, requesting that it cease holding both sectarian or non-sectarian invocations before city council meetings, and for Mayor Frank Jager to stop promoting the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast as a city official.
”The only issue left before this court surrounds the extent, if any, of the city's involvement in the 2012 and 2013 Mayor Prayer Breakfasts,” Day-Wilson wrote in court documents. “He was not a participant in the 2012 or 2013 prayer breakfasts and cannot provide any information other than hearsay.”
Martin, Beaton's attorney, argues in court papers filed Thursday that the lawsuit covers the “use of public facilities, including staff and telephone, is government support of prayer and official involvement that promotes religion,” and is broad enough to “apply to the conduct of Chief Mills, if it turns out that he did improperly mix religion and government.”
Mills declined to comment.
Watson ruled in December that non-sectarian invocations at council meetings are lawful, but that Beaton can still pursue her claim against Jager's prayer breakfast.
Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.