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State Board of Education steps up legal battle with Labrador

Attorney General Raúl Labrador | file photo
Originally posted on on June 30, 2023
BOISE — The State Board of Education says it will have to hire an outside attorney to defend itself in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Raúl Labrador.
And the board plans to forward its legal bills to Labrador’s office.
The State Board fired off a pointed letter to Labrador’s office Friday — 10 days after the attorney general sued the board over a series of closed-door discussions of the University of Idaho’s plans to acquire the University of Phoenix.
In the lawsuit, Labrador and Solicitor General Theo Wold argued that the board’s three executive sessions were illegal, and did not constitute “preliminary” discussions of the purchase, as the law requires. The State Board gave the green light to the $685 million financing plan on May 18, three days after the third and final executive session.
Matt Freeman
Initially, the board declined comment on the lawsuit. State Board executive director Matt Freeman broke that silence in Friday’s letter to Labrador’s office.
“In advance of the May 15 meeting, the board consulted with and relied upon the legal advice of the office of Attorney General Labrador to ensure the meeting was noticed and conducted legally,” Freeman wrote. “Additionally, the deputy attorney general assigned to the board was present for the entirety of the May 15 meeting and no concerns with its legality were ever raised.”
It’s uncommon for an attorney general — with a staff of deputies assigned to provide legal counsel to state agencies — to ultimately sue that agency.
Consequently, Freeman said, the State Board will now have to hire outside counsel, who is “experienced in litigation and acting independent of Attorney General Labrador.” The state Department of Health and Welfare has adopted a similar approach, hiring outside counsel to defend the department as Labrador investigates a $36 million federal child care grant program.
“Because of a conflict in representation by the office of Attorney General Labrador … board staff will promptly forward litigation counsel’s invoices to the office of Attorney General Labrador for payment from the funds appropriated to your office,” Freeman wrote.
In a statement Friday, Labrador’s office criticized Gov. Brad Little — who appoints seven of the eight members of the State Board.
Here, in full, is Labrador’s statement:
“Gov. Little continues to deflect and excuse bad behavior from his agencies by leaking legally deficient memos to the press. The governor should not make the failure of his board to comply with Idaho Open Meetings law a political issue. I can understand his sensitivity to issues related to how he’s handled education policy — including the emerging issues surrounding the improper or questionable purchases through the so-called Empowering Parents grant program — but the issue here is a failure to comply with basic black-letter law.
“The statute entrusts the attorney general to vindicate the people’s interest in transparent government. Every elected Idaho official should want public affairs to always be conducted in full view of the public and consistent with the law. The people of Idaho deserve nothing less. This shouldn’t be controversial. Why doesn’t Gov. Little simply ask his board to have an open meeting and cure this violation instead of wasting taxpayer funds and resources by prolonging litigation?”
The post State Board of Education steps up legal battle with Labrador appeared first on East Idaho News.

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