BOISE – Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin asked legislative budget writers on Wednesday for $29,000 in taxpayer money to cover legal fees incurred after she lost a public records lawsuit.
The Idaho Press Club sued McGeachin in July after several journalists said she wrongly denied public record requests for materials relating to her new Education Task Force. McGeachin lost the lawsuit, with the judge saying she acted in “bad faith” in denying access to the public documents. He ordered her to release the records and pay the Idaho Press Club’s legal fees, which came in just under $29,000.
McGeachin hired a private attorney to represent her in the case rather than using the Idaho Attorney General’s office. That work cost her an additional unknown amount in legal fees, but she told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Wednesday she was still “auditing” that bill, the Idaho Statesman reported.
The journalists – Audrey Dutton and Clark Corbin with the Idaho Capital Sun, Blake Jones with Idaho Education News and Hayat Norimine with the Idaho Statesman – requested public feedback forms and other documents relating to McGeachin’s Education Task Force. The task force was created to investigate allegations of “indoctrination” in the state’s public school system, something McGeachin said was necessary to “protect our young people from the scourge of critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism.”
During her budget presentation, McGeachin railed against the media.
The gubernatorial candidate said she’s been “doxxed” – when someone maliciously publishes private or identifying information about someone on the internet. Photos and addresses of the businesses McGeachin owns were published on the internet, she said, which led to “angry people” contacting her children and employees.
“It’s not a pleasant experience, and our whole effort was to protect the identity of the Idahoans who were submitting these comments,” McGeachin said.
She also attempted to lay the blame for the legal bills at the feet of the Idaho Attorney General’s office, telling the budget committee members that the legal fees came “after the Attorney General’s Office failed to properly represent her.”
While she did ask Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office for legal advice about the public records requests, Wasden’s agency recommended that she release the task force records. McGeachin declined to release the documents, instead hiring D. Colton Boyles, an attorney based in Sandpoint, to represent her in the lawsuit.
Fourth District Judge Steven Hippler agreed with the Idaho Press Club that the records were public and should be released, and in a blistering written ruling he chastised the lieutenant governor for acting in bad faith in trying to keep the records sealed.
McGeachin told the budget committee that she met with Wasden in October to ask that the $29,000 for the press club’s legal fees come out of his office’s budget.
“He was not agreeable to that,” McGeachin said.
Scott Graf, spokesperson for the attorney general’s office, in a previous statement said the lieutenant governor’s loss in court and subsequent costs were all the result of “independent decisions made by the lieutenant governor in consultation with her chosen attorney after June 7.”
“This entire matter is an excellent demonstration of why government should seek legal counsel that it needs to hear instead of what it wants to hear,” Graf said in October.
The Lieutenant Governor’s total budget is $183,100. McGeachin has said she may have to cut staff if the legal fees are pulled from that budget.
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