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Senate approves payment to Idaho GOP for legal fees, despite concerns

The Senate has voted 25-10 to pay $100,000 to the Idaho Republican Party for its attorney fees in its successful lawsuit against Idaho's primary election law, a settlement that was reached between the state and the party, revising the amount down from close to $144,000. But several senators noted that the court hasn't ordered payment. "I have to point out, we're paying $100,000 for the Republican Party to sue the Republican Legislature, defended by the Republican secretary of state, in order to close primaries in Idaho - I just think this is so bad it's comical," said Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise.

Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, an attorney, asked Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, who also is an attorney and is the bill's Senate sponsor, "Was the plaintiff forced to ask for those attorney fees?" Toryanski responded, "I do not believe that the lawyer that represented the plaintiff would be forced to ask for anything. However, under the civil rights attorneys fees award act of 1976, that act provides for the prevailing party in a civil rights lawsuit 1983, which this is, for the prevailing party to receive attorney fees." Bock asked, "Let's assume the plaintiff in this lawsuit had not requested attorney fees." Would they be awarded? he asked. "We're dealing with hypotheticals," Toryanski responded. "The request was made."

According to an affidavit that the Republican Party's attorney, Christ Troupis, filed with the federal court, he represented the party in the case on a "contingent fee" basis. That means the party wouldn't have owed him anything in fees if it lost; he would collect only if the court ordered fees paid by the prevailing party. You can read the affidavit here.

Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, said, "Senators, without a court order I don't believe it's in the best interest of Idaho residents, and in all good conscience I cannot support that, so this senator votes no." The bill, SB 1202, now moves to the House.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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