Arrow-right Camera
News >  ID Government

Eye on Boise: Idaho agrees to pay transgender women’s attorney fees

The Idaho State Capitol Building, seen Jan. 11, 2016. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)
The Idaho State Capitol Building, seen Jan. 11, 2016. (Otto Kitsinger / AP)

Idaho’s top state elected officials have approved a $75,000 payout to the attorneys who successfully represented two transgender women born in Idaho who sued to overturn the state’s law forbidding any changes to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate.

In March, a federal judge ruled that the Idaho law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, and ordered the state to begin allowing such changes. New state rules allowing the changes to birth certificates took effect April 6.

The state and the attorneys for the two women reached a settlement on the women’s attorney fees at $75,000, but the state acknowledged that if it went before a judge, the record would support a claim of more than $99,000.

“In my office’s view, the terms of the settlement are fair, and represent a significant savings to the state,” wrote Deputy Attorney General W. Scott Zanzig in a memo to the state Board of Examiners, which consists of Gov. Butch Otter, Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, with state Controller Brandon Woolf serving as the board’s nonvoting secretary.

The board, which met last week, unanimously approved the payment. Wasden said there were sufficient funds left in his office’s special litigation account to cover the attorney fee settlement, so no request needed to be submitted for payment from the Legislature’s Constitutional Defense Fund, which often is tapped for such fee awards when the state loses major cases over the constitutionality of laws passed by the Legislature.

Cockerille Law Office of Boise and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund represented the two women.

Prior to the court ruling, Idaho was one of just four states that didn’t allow transgender people to change the gender listed on their birth certificates; the other three are Kansas, Ohio and Tennessee.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale found that the mismatch the law created between the women’s gender identity and their birth certificates exposed them to “harassment and embarrassment,” and unconstitutionally treated transgender individuals differently from others, who were allowed to make other changes to Idaho birth certificates on matters including paternity.

Sims, Hart lose election, rendering eligibility questions irrelevant

Former state Reps. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Phil Hart, R-Athol, failed in their comeback bids in new districts – rendering moot, for now, the issue over whether they’d met the state Constitution’s residency requirements in the new districts where they ran.

After the Idaho Secretary of State’s office ruled just two weeks before the election that the two were ineligible to serve and ordered their names blacked out from already printed ballots, a court decided otherwise in Sims’ case – though some early voters already had used the blacked-out ballots.

Running in their new districts, Sims lost to Tony Wisniewski of Post Falls, getting 45 percent of the vote to his 55 percent in Tuesday’s GOP primary. Hart lost to Rep. Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, collecting just 42 percent of the vote to Shepherd’s 58 percent.

Now, said Chief Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst, “They’re not eligible because they lost.”

Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney still wants the law clarified for future elections, Hurst said.

More turnover expected in Legislature

While six Idaho GOP state legislators – all in eastern Idaho – lost their seats in last week’s primary election, the Legislature will see even bigger changes when that turnover is coupled with this year’s legislative retirements. At this point, due to either primary election losses or retirements, lawmakers who hold eight legislative committee chairmanships won’t be returning next year, including the co-chairs of the Legislature’s powerful joint budget committee and the State Affairs Committee chairs in both the House and Senate. And that’s before we’ve reached the November general election.

Meanwhile, two open seats stayed in the family in the primary election results: Britt Raybould, granddaughter of retiring Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, won a three-way race for the District 34B seat he’s leaving; and Linda Hartgen, wife of retiring Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, won the GOP primary for the District 24B seat he now holds, with 62 percent of the vote.

The elder Raybould chairs the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee. The retiring Hartgen chairs the House Commerce Committee.