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Politics & Government

Idaho AG's Office Says Bill To Let State Agencies Pick Their Own Lawyers Is Unconstitutional

The front of the Idaho Capitol building showing the bell and stairs. Two people are standing on the left-hand side.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Idaho House Republicans want state agencies to be able to choose their own lawyers under a bill approved Wednesday afternoon.

Under the proposal, state agencies could choose to use a lawyer from the Idaho Attorney General’s office, or pay an outside lawyer to do the same work. 

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel (D-Boise) said state agencies using this option could cost taxpayers a lot of money by justifying potentially unconstitutional actions with an outside lawyer.

“They’re shopping around. They’re looking for a hired gun attorney who’s going to tell them what they want to hear,” Rubel said

Private attorneys also charge more. Rubel, a lawyer herself, charges $725 an hour compared to roughly $60 an hour for a state lawyer.

A fiscal analysis for the bill estimates new costs to be $910,000, assuming 10% of state agencies choose to go with an external lawyer. Not included in that analysis are potential legal costs should the state be sued over an unconstitutional law, as Rubel pointed out.

But Rep. Bruce Skaug (R-Nampa), who’s also a lawyer, said fellow state lawmakers have told him stories about being frustrated with deputy attorneys general when they come into conflict over crafting legislation. Getting a second opinion, Skaug said, can be important.

“Attorney shopping, by the way, is OK. When you’re shopping for an attorney, you’re shopping to win,” he said.

The attorney general’s office said the bill is unconstitutional by legislating away powers given to him by the state constitution.

It now goes to the Senate.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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