Legislative budget writers were a bit taken aback this morning to get a supplemental appropriation request for $229,300 for legal fees related to the Syringa Networks lawsuit over the now-defunct Idaho Education Network, which the state lost, but after discussion, unanimously approved the payment, which covers the latest round of legal fees run up by the private firm representing the state in the case, Hawley Troxell. Still pending is an appeal of issues including a $950,000 award of attorney fees to the winning side in the case; if that’s upheld, the state would have to pay that as well. The courts overturned the $60 million contract for the statewide high school broadband service, ruling that the state issued it illegally.
Legislative budget analyst Robyn Lockett said remaining issues on appeal include the attorney fee order and the validity of two statewide blanket purchase orders. Arguments are scheduled before the Idaho Supreme Court in February, she said. “It could be 30 days, it could be six months” after that before a ruling. “So there are still a lot of unknowns related to these issues.”
Keith Reynolds, deputy director of the state Department of Administration, said, “There were funds used out of dedicated Purchasing Division funds last year, in the amount of $129,000 , that were used for the litigation costs in fiscal year 2015. Part of this request of $229,000 will reimburse that dedicated fund for those expenses. The balance of $100,000 is the estimated cost for the litigation cost in FY 2016, the current year.
Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, said, “It seems like we’re going to spend another $100,000 on a losing effort. I think it’s already been judged. So we continue to spend this money on efforts we know we’re not going to win … a losing battle. That’s my comment.”
JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “It is a bill before us, should you choose to pay it.”
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said, “I have a lot of confidence in Mr. Reynolds and the new director. If this is their recommendation, then I’m going to support this.”
Asked if there will be more bills, Lockett said, “The department is pretty confident, although again with litigation it’s hard to say, but they’re confident this is what they will need to get through this case.”
Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the Senate education chairman, moved to approve the funds. “I understand there is some consternation around the IEN and … this issue,” he said. “Sometimes when we get into a legal difference of opinion it takes legal fees just to finish it, and I think that’s where we’re at.”
The motion to approve the spending then passed, 20-0.