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Eye On Boise

Syringa decision being reconsidered

The court decision that tossed out a lawsuit over the state's award of the multimillion-dollar Idaho Education Network to Qwest is being reconsidered, after a 4th District judge said he forgot to consider a component of the case. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

Judge reconsiders dismissal in Syringa lawsuit
By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A state judge who dismissed a lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Administration over its decision to award a multimillion-dollar broadband contract is backtracking, saying he forgot to consider a component of the case and will issue a new ruling.

Fourth District Judge Patrick Owen issued an apology letter Tuesday to attorneys involved in the lawsuit filed by Syringa Networks.

The company sued the state in December, claiming the department illegally handed Qwest Communications Co. the $60 million contract to install the broadband infrastructure for the Idaho Education Network, an ambitious project to link public schools, universities and businesses in Idaho.

Owen tossed out the lawsuit last week after ruling that Syringa fell short of proving the state acted improperly. The ruling prompted Administration Department Director Mike Gwartney to cheer and claim vindication for his agency's decision to award Qwest the contract.

"I will be issuing an amended and corrected ruling shortly," Owen wrote. "I apologize for any confusion or consternation this may have caused. The fault is all mine."

The judge dismissed the case after agreeing with state attorneys who argued Syringa, a consortium of 12 Idaho telephone companies, did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit and failed to pursue administrative remedies before filing the civil suit.

But on Tuesday, Owen acknowledged his decision-making process failed to consider a stipulation reached between Syringa and the state in April. That legal deal directed the judge to focus only on the question of legal standing and administrative remedy.

But it also included an agreement that other factual disagreements in the case be delayed until Syringa lawyers had the chance to depose Gwartney and other defendants and witnesses.

"Obviously we don't know what the judge is going to do now," said Merlyn Clark, an attorney for the state. "And we don't know how this revised decision will effect the present ruling."

The Legislature approved the Idaho Education Network program in 2008 to enable schools across the state to tap into classes they normally wouldn't provide but are available at colleges and universities. More than 50 schools are already connected. Qwest lobbied hard for the system and won a big share of building it.

The state is getting $3 million in federal stimulus funds to build the network and has plans to invest more over the coming years.

In court papers, Syringa claims it was unfairly excluded from the contract to provide the broadband network, even though an impartial evaluation team concluded Syringa was the cheapest and most technically proficient bidder.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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