McGeachin’s office says it can’t find invoices for legal bills
Following loss in court, lieutenant governor asked Idaho taxpayers to pay $50,000 to cover bills
In a response to a public records request, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s office says it cannot find invoices or records for private, outside legal expenses that McGeachin is asking taxpayers to pay $50,000 to cover.
The Idaho Capital Sun has filed two requests under the Idaho Public Records Act seeking the release of McGeachin’s invoices for legal expenses related to the Idaho Press Club’s successful lawsuit seeking the release of 3,602 public comments regarding her education indoctrination task force.
McGeachin initially heavily redacted the public comments and then released the unredacted documents to the Idaho Capital Sun on Sept. 30 after District Judge Steven Hippler ordered McGeachin to do so.
On Aug. 31, McGeachin filed budget documents with the state’s Division of Financial Management requesting exactly $50,000 in supplemental funding to pay for “unforeseen legal bills that cannot be covered by the office’s current budget,” Boise State Public Radio reported.
“The Office of the Lt. Governor is writing this request for $50,000 supplemental due to unforeseen legal bills related to a lawsuit from the Idaho Press Club after the Attorney General’s Office failed to properly represent the Office of the Lt. Governor,” McGeachin wrote in the supplemental funding request. “Office of the Lt. Governor was forced to find outside counsel following the abrupt termination of counsel and guidance from the Attorney General’s Office after almost two months. The Office of the Lt. Governor has one of the smallest budgets in the state.”
The Attorney General’s office said in a statement Thursday that it last counseled the lieutenant governor in June, and that “the subsequent financial burden Idaho taxpayers now face” is a result of her seeking independent counsel.
Idaho media first requested Lt. Gov. McGeachin’s legal invoices in June
The Idaho Capital Sun filed its first request for McGeachin’s legal invoices on June 15.
After not receiving any invoices following the initial request, the Idaho Capital Sun filed another request on Oct. 4 for copies of the agreement between McGeachin’s office and attorney Colton Boyles or Boyles Law and for any invoices or copies of bills from Boyles or Boyles Law since April 20.
McGeachin’s office did provide a heavily redacted copy of McGeachin agreement with Boyles law. On the document, everything in the agreement was blacked out except for Boyle’s hourly rate of $250 and the $120 per hour rate for his paralegal.
McGeachin’s office never provided any bills or invoices.
“After a diligent search, we are unable to find any invoices,” McGeachin’s chief of staff Jordan Watters wrote to the Idaho Capital Sun on Oct. 7.
Shortly after this article was published Oct. 15, McGeachin tweeted “We can’t find what we don’t have and we don’t have any invoices.”
The Idaho Capital Sun sent Watters three other messages asking for copies of the invoices and asking how McGeachin came up with the $50,000 supplemental funding request if she doesn’t have invoices, bills or records of her legal expenses.
Watters responded to the Idaho Capital Sun on Oct. 8, writing only “The Office of the Lt. Governor has responded to your request for public records.”
Watters did not respond to questions about how McGeachin came up with her $50,000 supplemental funding request.
Without invoices or other records, it may be difficult or impossible for Idaho taxpayers and legislators who vote on budget requests to know how much McGeachin spent on outside counsel.
New records the Idaho Capital Sun obtained Friday afternoon show Idaho Division of Financial Management officials also questioned McGeachin about the $50,000 supplemental request several times.
In a Sept. 17 email, principal financial management analyst David Hahn wrote to Watters telling him that Idaho law requires state officers to be represented by the attorney general. Hahn asked Watters if there was a section of Idaho Code that authorized the lieutenant governor to hire outside counsel or if there was a provision that exempted her from the requirement. Hahn also asked Watters for “invoices showing expenses that tie out to the supplemental request.”
Watters responded in an Oct. 8 email, which the Idaho Capital Sun also obtained Friday. Watters wrote that the Attorney General’s Office represented McGeachin until June 7 and then McGeachin’s office “was advised to seek outside legal counsel.” Watters did not specify who advised McGeachin’s office to seek outside legal counsel, and the Attorney General’s Office called this an independent decision on McGeachin’s part.
Watters also responded, “These are legal fees that have been ordered by the court.” In his Oct. 8 email, Watters added that invoices for McGeachin’s legal fees are “not currently available.”
The Idaho Press Club said Hippler ordered McGeachin to pay $28,973.84 in fees and costs. It is not clear what other costs or fees McGeachin would have based her $50,000 request on.
Idaho Legislature’s JFAC committee will review supplemental funding requests next week
The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which writes the state budget, is meeting Tuesday through Thursday next week at the Idaho Capitol. Tuesday’s agenda includes a review of state agencies’ 2023 budget requests and a review of 2022 supplemental funding requests, such as McGeachin’s.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee doesn’t have the power to enact budget laws or approve funding requests on its own. That requires the full Legislature and likely won’t happen until after the 2022 legislative session convenes Jan. 10.
In her supplemental budget request, McGeachin blamed the Attorney General’s Office for the problem.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Attorney General’s Office spokesman Scott Graf responded on Thursday with a written statement saying the office did initially provide representation to McGeachin prior to the Idaho Press Club filing its lawsuit in July.
“The Office of the Attorney General offered its final legal counsel on this matter to the lieutenant governor on June 7, 2021,” the statement said. “Following that communication, the lieutenant governor made an independent decision to seek outside representation. Then — approximately six weeks after our final counsel — the Idaho Press Club filed its lawsuit.”
“Attorney-client privilege precludes us from discussing the specifics of our counsel at this point,” the statement continues. “However, the lawsuit, the lieutenant governor’s loss in court and the subsequent financial burden Idaho taxpayers now face all resulted from 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,” the Attorney General’s Office’s statement concludes.
In an unusual public appearance Thursday at an eastern Idaho elementary school, McGeachin blamed the news media, which she said reported on the issue unfairly, Idaho Education News reported. During Thursday’s appearance, McGeachin did not accept any questions from reporters. McGeachin said she was trying to protect Idahoans who left comments from attacks by the media.
The Idaho Press Club also released its own statement on Thursday, writing that there would be no court costs for taxpayers to shoulder if McGeachin had released the unredacted comments when they were originally requested.
“The judge made it very clear why we won our public records lawsuit against Lt. Gov. McGeachin: She unlawfully refused to release public records requested by four different reporters, for months on end,” the Idaho Press Club wrote in its statement.
Under Idaho law, government records are presumed to be open unless there is a specific and narrow exemption that would require them to be sealed.
“If public officials were required to disclose public records only to those, including media, they believe will support the government’s actions, we will have shed the principles of our democracy and evolved into an autocratic state where criticism of public officials is not permitted,” Hippler wrote in his ruling ordering the release of McGeachin’s task force records.
Although McGeachin’s own legal expenses remain obscured, Idahoans now have a better understanding of some of the bills she is facing. Hippler fined McGeachin $750 and ordered her to pay the Idaho Press Club’s costs and expenses. Hippler approved the order this week, ordering her to pay $28,973.84 in fees and costs, plus the $750 civil penalty, the Idaho Press Club said.
It is not clear how much McGeachin’s own fees were or how she accounts for the difference between her $50,000 request and the $29,723.84 in fees, costs and penalties Hippler ordered her to cover.
On his website Boyles, the attorney who represented McGeachin in the lawsuit, said he “uses a flexible billing approach that includes the traditional billable hour or contingency formats, or a hybrid value-based billing approach depending on client preferences.”