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Eye on Boise: New Idaho law center will cover up lynching murals

When the former Ada County Courthouse, which is also the former state Capitol Annex, opens as the new Idaho Law and Justice Learning Center later this summer, two controversial 1930s murals will be covered by banners.

The murals, depicting the lynching of a shirtless Native American man by white settlers, were a Works Progress Administration project that put artists to work during the Depression. They were intended to depict the Boise area’s history.

“The building historically has been a courthouse first, a legislative annex secondly, and now a center for law and justice,” said Lee Dillion, associate dean for Boise programs for the University of Idaho College of Law. “All three institutions stand for the rule of law, due process and for justice for all. And extrajudicial lynching posters are contrary to that – it’s mob rule, it’s absence of process and certainly not justice for all.” The lynching murals, he said, aren’t “appropriate to our educational and outreach mission.”

The murals have long been controversial; their display when the former courthouse was temporarily used as the site for two Idaho legislative sessions in 2008 and 2009 prompted yearlong negotiations between the state and Idaho Native American tribes on appropriate explanations on interpretive plaques. The plaques were posted in late 2008.

When the building was still the Ada County Courthouse, then-District Judge Gerald Schroeder ordered that the murals depicting the lynching be covered with Idaho and U.S. flags; they were hidden for eight years. Schroeder, now retired, went on to serve as the chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court.

When the renovated building reopens July 6 as the state law library moves in, the two murals will be covered by a University of Idaho College of Law banner and a Supreme Court state law library banner.

Dillion said he still plans to reach out to other parties, including tribes and the state Historical Society, but favors either permanently covering or moving the two murals.

Various court operations will be moving into the center this summer, along with the law school’s Boise program; more than 100 students will start second- and third-year law school classes there in late August. The center’s grand opening festivities are set for Sept. 24.

Summer reprieve for machines

The Idaho Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in Coeur d’Alene Tribe v. Lawerence Denney, the instant racing lawsuit, for 10 a.m. Aug. 11. That’s not as quickly as the tribe had requested the case be heard – it wanted the court to rule by July 1, when it contends SB 1011 takes effect, making the gambling terminals illegal in Idaho. The timing could mean the machines will continue to operate through much of the summer.

The bill, repealing authorization for the slot machinelike gambling terminals, passed both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly. Gov. Butch Otter issued a veto, but didn’t do so until after the five-day deadline for a veto had passed, raising questions about whether the bill officially became law without his signature. That’s what the lawsuit will decide.

The tribe operates a casino on its reservation in North Idaho. In 1998, it identified the Greyhound Park Event Center in Post Falls, a former dog-racing track that hosts simulcast betting and is also a historic tribal gathering place, as the site where it wanted to build a casino. Because the site was outside the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, that would have required approval from the governor of Idaho for the tribe to purchase the land and place it in trust with the federal government as Indian land. Then-Gov. Phil Batt said no, saying gaming in Idaho should be limited to tribal reservations, so the tribe developed its casino in Plummer in the heart of its reservation, a far more remote location than the Greyhound Park’s freeway location not far from Spokane. Now, the Greyhound Park is one of the sites where the slot machinelike instant racing terminals are operating.

Education board names chief

Idaho’s state Board of Education has announced that its new executive director will be Matt Freeman, now the board’s deputy director and chief fiscal officer. The homegrown pick, chosen after a national search, previously spent nine years with the Legislative Services Office, where he was a budget and policy analyst for the Legislature focusing on higher education. He holds a law degree from the University of Idaho and a bachelor’s degree from Whitworth University. Freeman replaces Mike Rush, who is leaving for a similar position starting Monday in South Dakota after a long Idaho career.

Freeman will be paid $140,004 a year; Rush made $130,769.

Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell blogs on Eye on Boise at