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McGeachin faces contempt of court complaint over refusal to release task force records

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin announces her candidacy to become governor of Idaho at a rally May 19 on the Statehouse steps in Boise. McGeachin failed to produce public records a month after a judge ordered her to do so, the Idaho Press Club reported in a petition.  (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)
By Nicole Blanchard Idaho Statesman

A lawyer for the Idaho Press Club on Wednesday filed a petition against Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin for contempt of court after McGeachin failed to produce public records a month after a judge ordered her to do so. The contempt petition asks a judge to detain McGeachin in jail until she produces the records, which came from a public feedback form tied to McGeachin’s education task force on indoctrination.

The Idaho Press Club, a membership organization for the state’s journalists, filed a lawsuit against McGeachin in July, stating that the lieutenant governor had violated state public records law by heavily redacting responses to a Google Form soliciting public comments.

In August, Ada County 4th District Judge Steven Hippler ruled in favor of the Idaho Press Club and ordered McGeachin to release the unredacted records. Hippler also ordered McGeachin to pay a $750 civil penalty for denying the records “deliberately and in bad faith.”

Since the conclusion of the lawsuit, the three Idaho journalists who requested the task force records have not received those documents. Following Hippler’s decision, Idaho Statesman state politics reporter Hayat Norimine, one of the reporters whose requests were initially denied, again requested an unredacted version of the task force responses. According to the contempt of court documents, McGeachin’s chief of staff Jordan Watters denied Norimine’s request, calling it “the subject of ongoing litigation.”

The petition states that McGeachin filed for relief from judgment – essentially asking Hippler to void his earlier decision – on Sept. 15, but failed to produce any supporting documents for her claims. McGeachin argued that she should have exemptions under Idaho’s Public Records Act, and claimed that the Idaho Attorney General’s Office did not provide her with sound advice and refused to represent her, according to the petition.

If McGeachin does not produce the indoctrination task force documents and is found in contempt, she could be held in jail until she complies with Hippler’s order.

“It is truly unfortunate that this case has reached the point that we are compelled to file a petition for contempt of court against the lieutenant governor,” the Idaho Press Club said in an emailed statement. “This case never should have reached the court to begin with, as the lieutenant governor clearly should have released the public records upon request, and her refusal to do so was a violation of the state of Idaho’s public records law.

“Meanwhile, draft legislation is being formulated as a result of the work of the Education Task Force examining indoctrination in public education,” the statement continued. “The records in question, the feedback form to the task force, could have a bearing on that legislation. Without full disclosure of those records, the task force is operating in secrecy, formulating public policy outside the public view, which is exactly what Idaho’s public records and open meetings laws seek to prevent.”

Editor’s note: Many Idaho Statesman journalists are members of the Idaho Press Club. Opinion Editor Scott McIntosh is a Press Club board member and chairman of the First Amendment Committee. He was a signer of the original public records lawsuit in this case.