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Court rules against Idaho treasurer in office space fight

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 26, 2021

The office of Idaho Treasurer Julie Ellsworth is seen at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2021. The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering the Idaho state treasurer to vacate her offices in the Statehouse. The court on Tuesday ruled in favor of Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder in a civil lawsuit seeking to oust Republican Treasurer Julie Ellsworth from her offices on the first floor in the capitol building.  (Keith Ridler)
The office of Idaho Treasurer Julie Ellsworth is seen at the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2021. The Idaho Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling ordering the Idaho state treasurer to vacate her offices in the Statehouse. The court on Tuesday ruled in favor of Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder in a civil lawsuit seeking to oust Republican Treasurer Julie Ellsworth from her offices on the first floor in the capitol building. (Keith Ridler)
By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE — The Idaho Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court ruling ordering Idaho’s elected state treasurer to vacate her offices in the Statehouse.

The court ruled unanimously in favor of Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder in their civil lawsuit seeking to oust Republican Treasurer Julie Ellsworth from her offices on the first floor of the capitol building.

Lawmakers want to make room for more House members and staff offices and have said the Statehouse’s lack of office space makes it difficult for House members to meet privately with constituents.

Ellsworth in a statement said that “the court has spoken” and added if lawmakers proceed with their plans that she “will move out of this space that the State Treasurer has occupied full-time since the construction of Idaho’s Capitol in 1912.”

Bedke said in a statement that “we now hope to finally move forward without any further delays or complications.”

A 2007 law allows the Legislature to decide what is done with the first, third and fourth floors of the building. A district court judge cited the law in ruling the Legislature has the authority to control space on the first floor and force Ellsworth out.

The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed that lower court ruling.

That 2007 law came about after then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, also a Republican, refused to allow the construction of two underground stories during a Statehouse renovation, citing concerns about growing government. Only one underground story was built.

Documents exchanged between Otter and lawmakers appeared to show an agreement to keep the treasurer’s office in place despite the executive branch giving up control of the first floor. But that agreement was never put into the 2007 law.

“Even if we were to consider the alleged agreement between the 2007 legislative leadership and then-Governor Otter, the letters in the record comprising the purported agreement seem to indicate that no concrete terms were ever agreed upon,” Supreme Court Justice John Stegner wrote. “Although the location and preservation of the historic office of the Treasurer are undoubtedly significant to Idaho’s history, these are ultimately policy concerns — not legal concerns.”

David Leroy, who represented Ellsworth at the district court level, said it was understandable the court concluded the agreement should have been put in the 2007 law.

But when it declined to recognize the agreement, the court “lost the opportunity to preserve this historic space as a previous governor and predecessor legislative leaders had agreed would be done.”

The justices rejected Ellsworth’s argument that the dispute was essentially a political question that the court should not consider. They said they were merely interpreting a law giving legislative leaders control of the Statehouse’s first floor.

The court said it was not ruling on another section of Idaho law that gives the Idaho Capitol Commission authority to oversee the historic building. The commission was not a part of the lawsuit.

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