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New ethics complaint targets Rep. Hart

BOISE - Yet another ethics complaint has been filed against Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, this one by the write-in candidate who unsuccessfully ran against him in November.

Hayden businessman Howard Griffiths, who garnered 25 percent of the vote for his write-in bid, sent in an ethics complaint even though officials say only House members can file those; earlier, another North Idaho resident, Larry Spencer, did the same, filing an ethics complaint against another North Idaho representative who had filed his own complaint against Hart.

Griffiths’ complaint focuses on Hart’s participation in a meeting between local judges and North Idaho lawmakers, at a time when he had his own tax appeal pending before one of the judges making the presentations. Hart’s appeal of an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest was rejected by 1st District Judge John Mitchell on Dec. 8; Hart filed a motion for reconsideration two weeks later and has a hearing before Mitchell scheduled for March.

Griffiths said it was unethical for Hart to go hear the judge’s requests for funding and other consideration from the Legislature when he had his own matter before the same judge. “Here’s Hart in the front row looking right at ‘em,” Griffiths said. “The whole thing is, it’s mind-boggling.”

House Speaker Lawerence Denney said he received Griffiths’ complaint and forwarded it to House Ethics Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, who plans to convene a meeting of the Ethics Committee next week.

“I’ve got a perfectly good ethics committee - they might just as well be busy,” Denney said.

As for Hart’s participation in the meeting with the judges, Denney said, “I don’t think it’s inappropriate, but let’s let the ethics committee look. I suspect that if they think there’s probable cause, that there will be a complaint brought by a legislator.”

Hart is a tax protester who’s currently embroiled in fighting an order to pay back state income taxes, which he contends are unconstitutional; and also has hundreds of thousands in IRS liens against him stemming from his decision to stop filing tax returns for several years in the 1990s while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit charging that the federal income tax was unconstitutional.

The House Ethics Committee voted unanimously in September to recommend that Hart be removed from the House Tax Committee while he presses his personal tax fight.

Anderson, who like Hart is a Republican representative from North Idaho, filed his own complaint against Hart in December charging that Hart has violated his oath of office. That complaint cites both his tax fights and his 1996 timber theft from state school endowment lands; Hart used the logs to build his Athol home, contended unsuccessfully in court that he was entitled to them as a citizen, and never paid off an outstanding judgment in the case.

Hart won a fourth term in the state House in November.

North Idaho resident Larry Spencer, a Hart supporter, subsequently filed an ethics complaint against Anderson, charging that Anderson has a conflict of interest because he’s a contractor and voted for contractor licensing legislation that Spencer opposes; and because he worked on a state milfoil eradication program and lives on Priest Lake, which is among the lakes where milfoil is now being eradicated.

Denney handled Spencer’s complaint the same way he handled Griffiths’ - he referred it to Loertscher.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who was among the North Idaho lawmakers who attended the meeting with judges, said it’s an annual event. “The presentations were kind of nebulous this year - in the past, we’ve had some pretty specific requests,” Goedde said. “I think the judges are very aware of our economic situation and were concerned about asking for funding.”