If Idaho really wants to save money in the Attorney General's office, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told lawmakers, it needs to look at further consolidation of legal services - a controversial move. "My office is stretched incredibly thin," Wasden said. "If the state is truly serious about cost-saving and efficiency, then it's time to take a look at further consolidation of legal services." Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, asked for some examples. Wasden said he can think of three "off the top of my head": Risk management, university counsel, and Health & Welfare child support attorneys.
Risk management mostly uses outside counsel, and Wasden said he doesn't know the full cost but estimates it at $1.2 million a year. His office could take that on by adding five attorneys and two support staff at a cost of about $600,000, for roughly $600,000 in savings. Another move - one Wasden acknowledged would be highly controversial - would be to look at bringing university attorneys under his office. University counsel now have an average salary of $144,000, Wasden said. A third is child-support attorneys at Health & Welfare, now mostly handled by outside counsel; "much of that is paid for by federal dollars, but there's a shifting of dollars that could occur," Wasden said. "That's all controversial, but that's three areas off the top of my head."
JFAC members had questions about two controversial pending lawsuits, the wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by former state Transportation Director Pam Lowe, and the Syringa lawsuit challenging a bid award by the state Department of Administration. "Lack of resources forced my office to refer the case to outside counsel," Wasden said of the Syringa case - at a negotiated, reduced rate of $250 per hour. The Lowe case also is being handled by outside counsel, AG's office officials said, through the Office of Risk Management and the Department of Transportation.