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Idaho lands panel’s legal bills mount

UPDATED: MONDAY, SEPT. 29, 2014, 10:15 A.M.

BOISE - The bill for outside legal fees for the Idaho Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee has now swelled to $61,375, according to documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Act.

The law firm Holland & Hart has submitted invoices to the Legislature for work from April to August totaling $19,613; that’s on top of the $41,762 the firm already had been paid before then.

The joint interim committee, which is looking into how Idaho could demand to take over federal public land within the state, hired Holland & Hart lawyer Bill Myers, former solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior, to advise it. Myers’ most recent charges to the state, at $420 an hour, include charges for a phone conversation and email with Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood in July; charges to review a Montana Senate resolution and correspond with Montana state staffers; charges to meet with committee co-chairman Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise; charges for legal research; and charges to participate in meetings in Montana and Utah.

Winder is co-chairing the panel with Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.

“I think getting good sound legal advice is well worth it,” Denney told The Spokesman-Review today. “Of course we have been criticized for not using the Attorney General, but I’m not sure the Attorney General has any attorneys on staff with the time or the expertise that Bill Myers has. So I think for us to get good sound legal advice, I think it’s a good idea for us to hire outside counsel.”

Legislative committees can get legal advice from the Attorney General without charge.

Denney said there may well be more legal expenses for the panel, which is in the midst of holding seven public hearings around the state. “I expect that there may be more consultation, there may be at least one more bill,” he said.

Idaho lawmakers passed a resolution in 2013 setting up the joint panel and charging it to “undertake and complete a study of the process of the state acquiring title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho.”

“I think it has been well worth the time and I think we have highlighted some issues that really needed to be highlighted,” Denney said, “and that is the poor management of the federal lands in the state of Idaho, and certainly whether the state gains control or the federal government keeps control, I think we’ve highlighted the need for management on those lands.”

Denney, former speaker of the Idaho House until he was ousted two years ago, is currently running for Idaho Secretary of State.


 

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