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Eye On Boise

Bedke says gov’s former chief lawyer was best qualified for sage grouse lawsuit, allowed state to ‘not miss a beat’

I’m awaiting comment from Gov. Butch Otter’s office on why the state is now paying more to Tom Perry, the governor’s former chief legal counsel, to represent it in the sage grouse lawsuit than it paid to Perry when he was a $100,000 a year state employee. Perry left the governor’s office in April and launched a private practice as a partner in Marten Law, which opened its Boise office with Perry and former J.R. Simplot Co. general counsel Terry Uhling on board in May. The Boise office is the sixth the Seattle-based energy and environmental law firm has opened in Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho.

It cited Perry’s 10 years of experience working for Otter when it announced the Boise office opening on May 18, noting that he served as one of the state’s principal negotiators on the Idaho roadless rule and chaired the governor’s sage grouse task force.

The AP reports today that Idaho has paid Perry $142,464.60 so far as the lead counsel on the sage grouse lawsuit, which was filed Sept. 25 is being funded from the Idaho Legislature’s legal defense fund and in which Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office is not involved. The lawsuit was filed by the governor, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill.

Bedke defended the hiring of Perry’s firm. “It’s not just to Perry, it’s to the firm that is working on the appeal,” he said. “In my opinion, the state has got to defend itself on the sage grouse issue, and he and those that he works with are, in our opinion, the best and recognized throughout the region as being the most qualified attorneys on this subject.”

Asked why not just use the Attorney General’s office, which already is paid with state taxpayers’ funds and wouldn’t have meant big additional costs, Bedke said, “Well, because they aren’t the regional experts on this subject.”

Bedke said he was pleased “to be able to hire him and his firm and to not miss a beat, because time was of the essence because the federal government had moved so quickly.”

“I think the state’s stepping up and protecting what is ours,” Bedke said. “We had a very viable state management plan that would have worked. And I have confidence that if we have a chance to let it work, it will work. But these added layers and the sage brush focal areas and all the restrictions that come with that, was outside of our state plan. The state plan was a large stakeholder group that we spent a year with all the stakeholders, including the environmental communities etc., to come up with this plan, and then to have it rebuffed as it was, of course that prompted the appeal.”

He said of Perry: “There was no one that had a better working knowledge of the state’s plans and the other regional states’ plans than Tom Perry. But his leaving was, that was scheduled way ahead of this. I appreciate Gov. Otter taking the lead regionally on this issue. These other states are drafting right in behind him.”

(NOTE: This post has been updated to correct the total paid to Perry and his firm; an earlier figure included a partial double-billing due to a belated payment, and has since been corrected.)

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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