BOISE – The bill for outside legal fees in Idaho’s long-shot attempt to take over federal land within the state has now swelled to $61,375, according to documents obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Idaho Public Records Act.
The law firm Holland & Hart has submitted invoices to the Legislature for work from April to August totaling $19,613; that’s on top of the $41,762 the firm already had been paid before then.
The Legislature’s Federal Lands Interim Committee, which is looking into how Idaho could demand to take over federal public land statewide, hired Holland & Hart lawyer Bill Myers, former solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior, to advise it. Myers’ most recent charges to the state, at $420 an hour, include a phone conversation and email with state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, in July; a review of a Montana Senate resolution and correspondence with Montana state staffers; a meeting with committee co-chairman Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise; legal research; and participation in meetings in Montana and Utah.
Winder is co-chairing the panel with state Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale.
“I think getting good, sound legal advice is well worth it,” Denney told The Spokesman-Review on Monday. “Of course we have been criticized for not using the attorney general, but I’m not sure the attorney general has any attorneys on staff with the time or the expertise that Bill Myers has. So I think for us to get good, sound legal advice, I think it’s a good idea for us to hire outside counsel.”
Legislative committees can get legal advice from the attorney general without charge.
Denney said there may well be more legal expenses for the panel, which is in the midst of holding seven public hearings around the state. “I expect that there may be more consultation, there may be at least one more bill,” he said.
Idaho lawmakers passed a resolution in 2013 setting up the joint panel and charging it to “undertake and complete a study of the process of the state acquiring title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho.” Legal impediments to such a move have proven huge, however.
Winder said rather than a takeover, the panel is leaning toward suggesting smaller steps like co-management projects. “I think there are really good things that can come out of this process without turning the whole world upside down,” he said.
Denney said, “I think it has been well worth the time. … Certainly, whether the state gains control or the federal government keeps control, I think we’ve highlighted the need for management on those lands.”
Denney, former speaker of the Idaho House until he was ousted two years ago, is currently running for Idaho secretary of state. He faces state Rep. Holli Woodings, D-Boise, in that contest.
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