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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: ethics committee

Hart’s lawyer can’t appeal ethics ruling

Remember when Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, issued a statement last week charging that the House Ethics Committee’s action against Hart, through its unanimous vote to recommend his removal from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he presses his own personal fight against back state income taxes, had “no basis in law or procedure and exceeds the Committee’s authority”? Turns out those claims aren’t going anywhere. Here’s why: “There is no judicial review of this,” said Brian Kane, the deputy attorney general assigned to the Ethics Committee, who attended all its meetings and advised members throughout the process.

“This is a wholly internal procedure of a single chamber of Idaho’s Legislature,” Kane said.  “Courts generally have been extremely resistant to getting into the inner workings of the legislative body, as far as committee assignments and things like that. That would be a really clear violation of the separation of powers, in my opinion.”

Kane outlined for the panel, at both its meetings, the options it had before it: Dismissal of charges, reprimand, censure, or expulsion. “Each of those are recommendations to the full body,” he said. “And they can include within those measures additional recommendations such as removal from a committee or removal from all committees, or different combinations of things that perhaps the speaker or the body would want to invoke against that member.”

Denney: ‘Might be best’ for Hart to exit House Rev & Tax panel

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — House Speaker Lawerence Denney says it “might be the best” for a lawmaker embroiled in a $700,000 tax dispute to be stripped of his assignment on a key legislative tax committee. A seven-member House ethics panel voted Wednesday to recommend Rep. Phil Hart’s removal from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Denney told The Associated Press Thursday he won’t make a final decision until December. He first wants to sit down with Hart and discuss the matter. Still, Denney, a Republican from Midvale, said removing Hart from House Revenue and Taxation Committee “might be the best thing.” Before making their removal recommendation, a majority on the ethics committee concluded Hart’s votes didn’t violate conflict of interest rules, and dismissed a charge of abuse of legislative privilege; however, they said his continued service on the tax committee while he presses his personal tax fight did constitute a conflict of interest.

Hart issues response disputing Ethics Committee’s authority to act against him

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart’s attorney, Starr Kelso, has sent out a defiant response to today’s House Ethics Committee decision on Hart’s behalf, arguing that the panel’s decision “has no basis in law or procedure and exceeds the committee’s authority.” That’s not what the Idaho Attorney General’s office advised the ethics committee. You can read Kelso’s statement here; headed, “Phil Hart’s Response to the Idaho Ethics Committee Rulings,” declares, “Since January 2005 Mr. Hart has paid over $120,000 in txes. Mr. Hart believes that when the law is applied to the facts it will be determined that he has overpaid his income taxes.”

Public records, including IRS liens, show that Hart owes $700,000 in back federal and state income taxes, penalties and interest. In a motion for reconsideration to the state Board of Tax Appeals that Kelso provided to the Ethics Committee on Wednesday, he wrote that Hart’s tax woes are “entirely the result of political persecution of Mr. Hart by the IRS.”

Sayler: ‘Cast a black mark on the Legislature’

Here’s a link to my full story at on the House Ethics Committee hearing today, in which the panel voted unanimously to recommend that Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, be removed from the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he presses his own personal fight against back state income taxes.

That vote was unanimous, but Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, voted with the panel’s Republican members in an earlier 5-2 vote to dismiss a charge against Hart of abuse of legislative privilege. “I’ve said before I don’t think this is a partisan issue,” Sayler said. “I don’t see that we had a clear standard to judge by, in terms of the immunity clause … when it can be used and when it cannot be used. I certainly thought it was inappropriate, and cast a black mark on the legislative body, and I would hope that Rep. Hart would change his practice, but in terms of a clear violation of that clause, I didn’t see it.”

Sayler said, “From a personal perspective, I do believe his behavior was unethical. But from a legal perspective, I didn’t see we had the justification.”

Ethics Committee to convene today on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee investigating the actions of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, convenes this afternoon at 2:30 Boise time in the House State Affairs Committee hearing room, East Wing Room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol, for a telephone conference call meeting. A live audio stream will be available to the public at the Legislature’s website under “Announcements.” Here’s a link to the official notice of the meeting.

Ethics panel sets Sept. 22 meeting on Hart

The special House Ethics Committee that’s investigating ethics complaints against state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has set its next meeting for Sept. 22, when the panel will meet at 2:30 p.m. via conference call. A live audio stream of the meeting will be available to the public on the Legislature’s website under “Announcements,” and the meeting will take place in the House State Affairs Committee meeting room, east wing room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol. At its July meeting, the ethics committee voted 4-3, along party lines, to clear Hart of one of the two charges, conflict of interest. The remaining charge is abuse of legislative privilege. Both involve Hart’s actions as a state lawmaker while pressing his personal fights against both federal and state income taxes, which he contends are unconstitutional.

Hart scheduled to testify to ethics committee

The House Ethics Committee has released its agenda for its Thursday meeting regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol; you can see it here. The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the state Capitol with discussion of constitutional provisions and House rules, then include a review of the formal ethics complaint against Hart and of his written response, followed by additional comments and testimony from Hart himself. That’s scheduled to be followed by committee discussion and action. Audio from the meeting will be streamed live on the Internet; the meeting will be in the Capitol’s garden level, east wing, room 40.

Hart cast deciding votes on state tax rules

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, who has big tax disputes pending over back state and federal income taxes, sat on a three-member legislative subcommittee this year that reviewed new state tax rules for all Idaho taxpayers, and he cast the deciding vote on two of them. Those included a new rule for how the state Tax Commission should handle settlements of more than $50,000 in income tax liability - at a time when Hart was facing an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. Hart never mentioned his case or declared a conflict of interest.
A special House Ethics Committee is currently looking into whether Hart had conflicts of interest in the Legislature due to his tax problems, and whether he abused the legislative privilege from arrest or civil process during sessions by invoking it repeatedly to win delays in his state and federal tax cases. Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who served with Hart on the subcommittee, tried to get two new income tax rules killed because he thought they were too lenient on tax scofflaws. “I would’ve loved to have Phil’s support, because we could’ve defeated the rule,” Burgoyne said. “I had several concerns about it. … I generally take the view that people who get away with not paying their taxes make chumps out of the rest of us.”

Hart said today that he saw no conflict, because his own case had already progressed past the point of a possible settlement. You can read my full story here at Also, Hart today sent out a guest editorial entitled “Tax Reform for Idaho,” in which he called for eliminating the income tax. “A tax on wages and salaries is a tax on our right to exist.  It is the feudal system of the old world,” he writes. “We threw off the old world system in 1776, but it crept back in.  Today, it is time to do it again.” You can read his piece here.

Rep. Hart’s tax woes add up to $700K

Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart’s tax problems appear to be worse than previously disclosed. When federal tax liens filed against Hart’s various business entities are combined with the hundreds of thousands in liens the IRS has filed against him personally in his ongoing fight over back income taxes, the third-term Idaho lawmaker faces a total of more than $644,000 in outstanding federal tax liens. A state income tax judgment against him that he’s attempting to appeal pushes that total up to nearly $700,000.

Hart, who’s facing a state ethics inquiry over the use of his legislative position in his tax fight, said he doesn’t understand how the authorities could think he owes that much. “I don’t even know if I’ve made that much in that period of time,” he said, “so the tax rate must be 100 percent or something.” You can read my full story here at, plus see the documents.

Hart denies ethics charges

Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, denied the ethics charges against him Wednesday in a formal response to a special House Ethics Committee, and decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts” and “perceptions.” “I have no hesitancy in accounting for, and defending, all of my actions as an elected representative of District 3,” Hart said in a letter to the committee. “I am, however, concerned that anyone could choose to base an ethics complaints on what ‘appears’ from ‘recent news accounts.’”

Hart is charged with possible abuse of legislative privilege for repeatedly citing the constitutional protection of lawmakers from arrest or civil service during legislative sessions to seek delays in his federal and state income tax fights, and possible conflict of interest for serving on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee while pressing his personal tax fights; the Spokesman-Review reported on Hart’s moves in a series of articles over the past month.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, who filed the complaint against Hart, said, “Certainly there’s a difference of opinion, and I’ll leave it to the Ethics Committee to decide on the appropriateness of the behaviors and whether or how they reflect upon the credibility and authority of the House of Representatives.” You can read my full story here at, and see the complaint against Hart here.

Hart: ‘Tell that story I will’

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has filed his response to a House Ethics Committee’s charges against him; click here to read his response. In an email with his response, Hart wrote, “I want you to know that this part of the process of governance does not minimize the passion I have to serve the people of the 3rd legislative district. I sought this office because I wanted to be in a position to protect our constitutional rights and the liberties of the people. I am seeking re-election now because, with my six years of experience, I feel I can be more effective in attaining those lofty goals. American patriots fight for what is right in the country and reject is what is wrong with the country. This battle for me is no less than fighting for what is right and just in the legislative arena and in the state that I have grown to love. This battle for what is right gives me the opportunity to tell an American story. And tell that story I will.”

Hart, who is unopposed for re-election, simply denies both the charges in his response - that he abused legislative privilege by invoking it repeatedly to seek delays in his state and federal income tax fights, and that he had a conflict of interest in serving on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while pressing those fights. He also decried the complaint against him for citing “news accounts, appearances and perceptions.”

Hart: ‘I do plan on responding’

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this response today to the convening of the newly appointed House Ethics Committee: “I guess I would say I’m anxious to get through the process, and I’m confident everything’s going to work out OK for me.” Hart said he’s received the formal letter from committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “and I do plan on responding to it.”

Ethics panel wants to be ‘completely fair’

The newly convened House Ethics Committee promised a “by the book” investigation into the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, during its first meeting today; you can read my full story here at Click here to read the committee documents - the order appointing the committee, the original complaint, and a statement from the House speaker. Said Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, “We want to make sure that we are completely fair in all our deliberations.”

Hart won’t be excluded from hearings

House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher said Rep. Phil Hart asked Speaker Lawerence Denney if he should attend today’s meeting, and Denney checked with Loertscher. “I said we won’t have questions for him today,” Loertscher said. “We will not exclude him from any of the hearings,” Loertscher said. Here is the letter the ethics committee sent to Hart, seeking his formal response to the charges.

Hart doesn’t have to respond…

Rep. Phil Hart doesn’t have to respond to the Ethics Committee, Chairman Tom Loertscher noted. “We may not receive a response - he doesn’t have to respond if he chooses not to.” Loertscher cautioned committee members about talking with Hart. “Just so that you know, I have not been approached by Rep. Hart at all on this matter,” Loertscher said. “I would caution the committee not to have those conversations and be careful.” Loertscher said he ran into Hart in Idaho Falls during the state GOP convention, and “he avoided me like the plague - we said ‘hello’ and that’s it.” Said Loertscher, “It was very appropriate.”

The committee has set its next meeting for Thursday July 29th at 9 a.m.

Ethics panel’s four options…

The ethics committee has four possible recommendations it can make to the House regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol: Dismissal of the charges; reprimand, which requires a majority vote of House members; censure, which also requires a majority vote of the House; and expulsion, which requires a two-thirds vote of the House pursuant to Article 3, Section 11 of the Constitution. Any recommendation also could carry a sanction recommendation, such as removal from certain committees.

Ethics panel: All will be done in the open

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said he’d like the Attorney General’s office to provide the House Ethics Committee with a legal briefing on the constitutional provision regarding legislative privilege from arrest or civil process during sessions. Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said, “That certainly is appropriate.” Rep. Bill Killen, D-Boise, also asked for briefing on applicable laws. Deputy
Attorney General Brian Kane said there are two issues: The constitutional privilege provision and whether it was abused, including questions about related laws; and House Rule 38 regarding conflicts of interest. On the constitutional privilege, Kane noted, “Since there is a current, live legal proceeding with regard to that, that question may actually be answered by a court.” But that doesn’t stop the committee from ruling on the issue with regard to ethics rules, he said.

Loertscher told the committee members that as soon as he receives Hart’s response, “I’ll see that you get that the minute that I receive that, so that you have a chance to review that.” Questioned by committee Vice Chair Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, on whether that document and others in the proceeding are public, Loertscher said, “Absolutely. All of this is done in the open. There’s no executive privilege here whatsoever. Everything that I receive with regard to this I’ll make sure that you all get a copy of that.”

Ethics panel briefed on process

Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane told the ethics committee, “You have the authority to take testimony, to hear from witnesses.” The committee’s decision will be in the form of a recommendation to the full House, he said. “Only the full body can take final action.”

Ethics panel asks Hart to respond in writing

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said, “I did send a letter to Rep. Hart asking for his response. … we want to make sure that we do this correctly and that we give everybody a fair opportunity to respond.” Hart was invited in the letter to respond in writing to the ethics complaint against him. “We would expect a response back from him no later than July 14 so that we could proceed,” Loertscher said.

Ethics committee convenes, Hart isn’t here

The House Ethics Committee has convened its first meeting; Rep. Phil Hart, whose conduct is being investigated, isn’t present.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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