Media wins execution access case, state pays fees
BOISE - The state of Idaho and a group of Idaho news media have agreed that all Idaho executions should be open to media witnesses from start to finish, ending a lawsuit brought by the media, and the state has paid the news media’s attorney fees and costs of more than $29,000 for the suit.
Both sides in the lawsuit filed a stipulation Monday in federal court declaring that the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in the case settles the issues raised, and should be the practice for all future Idaho executions; the appellate court sided with the media.
The stipulation, submitted to U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, says witnesses to executions in Idaho will “observe the entire execution from the moment the inmate enters the execution chamber through, to and including, the time the inmate is declared dead. ”
The two sides also agreed that the state should pay the news media’s attorney fees and costs for the case, which came to $29,297; that has now been paid.
The lawsuit was brought by 16 Idaho news outlets and organizations, led by the Associated Press, and also including the Idaho Press Club and The Spokesman-Review. The media groups charged that the state’s execution witness access rules, which prohibited witnesses, including the news media, from seeing the early portions of lethal injection executions, directly violated a 2002 9th Circuit decision. The court agreed.
Subsequently, Richard Leavitt was executed on June 12 as scheduled, and the state modified its procedures to allow witnesses full access to see the process, rather than waiting to open a curtain to witnesses until after IV lines had been inserted to administer the fatal drugs, as had been done in the November execution of Paul Rhoades.
“The resolution of this issue is an important step for Idaho,” said Spokesman-Review Editor Gary Graham. “Idaho residents and all interested parties deserved assurances that executions are carried out in the manner and detail required by law.”
State Corrections Director Brent Reinke said immediately after the execution that the new system worked. “I am grateful that we have four media witnesses here to tell you what they saw. Our goal was to make this as professional as possible with dignity and respect, and I believe we met that mark,” he said.
Idaho was among four states in the 9th Circuit that hadn’t been complying with a 2002 decision that specifically required witness access to lethal injection executions from the start to finish of the process, holding that that the First Amendment requires that representatives of the public be able to view executions in their entirety. The other three states were Washington, Montana and Arizona, but Arizona announced last month that it was changing its procedures to allow witnesses to view the insertion of IVs via closed-circuit TV.
Washington still hasn’t changed its execution procedures.
Reinke, asked after the execution if the big legal fight was necessary given his satisfaction with the open process, said, “In my opinion it was. We learned a lot in this process, and we took the necessary steps to make sure we had a court order before we proceeded.”
Bob Cooper, spokesman for the Idaho Attorney General’s office, said, “We represented our client in this case. They asked the Attorney General to defend the department, and we did that.” As for the state paying the attorney fees and costs for the suit, Cooper said, “That’s part of the process of litigation.”
Jeff Ray, Department of Corrections spokesman, agreed. “We lost, so we have to pay, and we accept that,” he said Monday. “We of course respect the court’s decision. It wasn’t what we hoped for, but we followed it for the last execution, and we will abide by it in the years to come.”