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Sunday, March 24, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Wasden tells lawmakers his office can handle major litigation, save the state money

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told legislative budget writers this morning that when Idaho’s case over Medicaid reimbursement amounts went to the U.S. Supreme Court, he was immediately contacted by an array of “high-powered, high-priced Washington, D.C. law firms” asking to represent the state before the nation’s highest court. “I rejected those solicitations, because I believe in the talent, skill and commitment of the deputies in my office, who every day practice law at the highest level,” Wasden said. “I rejected those offers because I knew we could handle this matter in a manner that was cost-effective and efficient.” Two deputies from Wasden’s office argued the case and won.

“My office will continue to defend Idaho’s laws, provide sound legal advice to clients and enforce the enactments of the state,” Wasden told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

 In the past year, he said, the Attorney General’s office has returned slightly more than its six-year average of $48 million through recoveries and settlements, about $2.51 for every dollar appropriated to it. It’s continuing to defend the national tobacco settlement, on which significant litigation is anticipated in the next year; initiated 309 investigations through its Idaho Crimes Against Children unit between April and December of 2015 that resulted in 13 arrests and 55 executed search warrants; and launched eight investigations into complaints of public corruption and has nine more under review.

Idaho joined 12 other states last summer to sue the EPA over its Waters of the United States rule, winning an injunction from a North Dakota judge in September, Wasden told lawmakers. His Natural Resources Division also has been working on the negotiations with the Coeur d’Alene Tribe over water rights adjudication in North Idaho. “I’m encouraged by the progress so far,” Wasden said. “We’ve had three separate negotiation sessions, and … continue to meet.”

The division also assisted with the efforts toward the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer agreement; Wasden lauded House Speaker Scott Bedke and Sen. Steve Bair for their work to resolve that conflict. “The potential economic fallout from any failure to solve this … cannot be overstated,” Wasden said. “This will put Idaho on the path of bringing the water budget for the aquifer back into balance. I am pleased to say that my office was able to assist in reaching this important and historic agreement.”

This past year also saw Idaho win its antitrust lawsuit against St. Luke’s over acquisition of the Saltzer Medical Group, with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the federal court decision. “This litigation was time-consuming, expensive and perhaps unpopular in some circles, but I have no doubt it was the right thing to do to protect consumers and ensure a fair health care marketplace,” Wasden told lawmakers.

For the coming year, Wasden’s budget request is for a 6.7 percent increase in state general funds, including adding paralegals, investigators, a hearing officer and two additional attorneys. Much of the cost would be offset in the future by interagency payments from the state agencies served by the new positions.

The two new attorneys, plus one paralegal, would represent the state in risk management cases, following recommendations from a legislative performance audit report that said Idaho could save money by handling those cases through the Attorney General’s office rather than hiring pricey private attorneys. Gov. Butch Otter didn’t recommend funding that $347,800 request. Wasden’s office reported that from 2011 to 2014, Idaho hired private attorneys to defend the state in 97 percent of the 157 lawsuits filed against it.

Wasden, who is Idaho’s longest-serving Attorney General and was elected in 2014 to his fourth four-year term, said his mission is “to provide legal advice that is accurate, objective and timely … firmly grounded in the rule of law. There is no other way to properly do my job.”

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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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