BOISE – Idaho’s top elected officials voted Tuesday to pay nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds for legal costs in the Idaho Education Network lawsuit, which the state lost.
That’s on top of the more than $1 million the state spent with a private law firm in Boise for its own legal defense in the case.
And Idaho taxpayers could be on the hook for tens of millions in additional liability and possible lawsuits from the contractors who already have filed multimillion-dollar tort claims against the state.
All for a contract signed by then-state Department of Administration Director Mike Gwartney, a close friend of Gov. Butch Otter, for high-speed Internet access in Idaho public schools. Courts found the contract was illegally issued to two politically connected vendors, Education Networks of America and Qwest, which is now CenturyLink. A third vendor, Syringa Networks, sued.
The state Board of Examiners, which consists of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, voted unanimously to approve two payments: about $930,600, plus interest, for Syringa’s attorney fees and $1,248.50 for the state’s costs in its most recent appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, which it lost.
Courts last year declared the $60 million contract the state signed for the network illegal, saying the state Department of Administration violated purchasing laws. The broadband network linking Idaho high schools went dark. Since then, schools have contracted for their own broadband services at savings that have mounted into millions of dollars.
The state has repeatedly appealed the court rulings in the case. After Tuesday’s vote, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said there will be no further appeals.
“There’s no place left to appeal,” he said.
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