By Jim Jones
When Raul Labrador was running for Attorney General last year, he promised to be a different kind of AG and boy has he delivered on that promise. He has done things that nobody could ever have expected an Idaho AG to do.
Labrador certainly made a media splash in June when he hauled off, without warning, and brought suit against his own client, the State Board of Education. He claimed the Board violated Idaho’s Open Meeting Law when considering the University of Idaho’s plan to acquire the University of Phoenix. It is universally known in Idaho legal circles that it is highly unethical for a lawyer to sue his or her own client. A district judge agreed and ruled that Labrador was disqualified from personally handling the lawsuit.
He had to assign another lawyer to pursue the lawsuit, while the State Board had to hire private attorneys to defend the case. Labrador’s office added additional claims to the suit but the judge dismissed them, leaving only a single claim for a January trial.
The State Board has consistently argued that Labrador’s employee, a Deputy AG, told the Board it could consider the U of I plan in a closed-door session without violating the law. We now learn the astounding fact that Labrador’s office has asked the judge to allow it to take the deposition of the Deputy AG. So, the Attorney General’s office now wants to put the Deputy, who works for the AG, under oath, to ask questions about what she told the Board. In the more than 50 years I’ve followed the office, including the eight years I served as AG, I’ve never heard of such strange happenings.
It is a further sign of dysfunction within the office.
In another situation where Labrador took legal action against several clients and was, as a consequence, disqualified from handling the lawsuit, the state is facing a claim for almost $120,000 in attorney fees. In that case Labrador, without prior warning, served Civil Investigative Demands (CIDs) against Dave Jeppeson, the Director of the Idaho Department of Health and welfare (IDHW) and two of his staffers for their handling of a child care grant program. The CIDs called for the production of a mountain of documents. Jeppeson says he would have handed the documents over if Labrador had simply picked up the phone and asked for them.
Litigation ensued and the IDHW employees had to hire private attorneys to defend against the CIDs. After Labrador was removed from the lawsuit because of his conflict of interest, the AG’s new attorney withdrew the CIDs. Now, the IDHW’s attorneys are seeking an award of $119,112.50 for standing up against Labrador’s meritless claims.
Although Jeppeson was able to deflate the claims against him in court, Labrador’s actions resulted in an agency controlled by the Legislature questioning IDHW’s handling of the grant program. Jeppeson will likely be exonerated in a different lawsuit involving similar CIDs issued by Labrador to a large number of the child care grant recipients. That case is currently pending before the Idaho Supreme Court.
Labrador has not confined his legal hijinks to the State of Idaho. The most recent head-scratching legal action initiated by Labrador involves a California statute making California special education funds available to private schools, except for “nonsectarian” schools. Our AG is asking a federal court in California to invalidate the statute. The case will have no application in Idaho. In fact, Idaho’s Constitution has strong prohibitions against state funds being used for religious institutions or sectarian teaching. With all of his questionable legal exploits at home in Idaho, one wonders why his office should squander time and resources on fruitless out-of-state adventures.
In his first year as AG, Labrador has managed to raise serious concerns among Governor Little’s executive agencies as to whether they can trust the lawyer who is required by state law to represent them. He seems intent on challenging his statutory clients, while using his employees and resources to further his personal agenda. It is high time for him to buckle down and start doing the job that he was elected to do.12