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Politics & Government

Lt. Gov McGeachin's failed legal battle over public records cost taxpayers $50,000

Janice McGeachin for governor
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, right, shortly before greeting a crowd on the steps of the Idaho Capitol in Boise as she announces her bid for governor in 2022.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is asking the state for $50,000 to cover private legal costs for her failed attempt to withhold public records from reporters.

The amount, which represents 27% of her fiscal year 2022 budget, was labeled as “unforeseen legal bills” according to a budget request McGeachin submitted Aug. 31 to the state budget office. Without it, she said, staff hours would be reduced and constituent services would suffer.

In August, the Idaho Press Club won a lawsuit against McGeachin, who's running for governor, after her office argued public comments related to her education indoctrination task force were exempt.

All public records in Idaho are presumed to be open for examination, according to state law, with some exceptions.

Several reporters asked for copies of the roughly 3,600 responses her office received.

Jordan Watters, McGeachin’s chief of staff, told reporters that redacting the personal information of those who commented would cost them between $560 and $1,540.

Judge Steven Hippler found McGeachin’s arguments that the comments were privileged communication to be “frivolous” and that her office acted “in bad faith” in responding to the records request.

Sections of state and federal law her office cited as reasons to exempt disclosure of the records include those regarding trade secrets, executive privilege, fish and game license and investigations conducted by the Idaho Human Rights Commission.

The exemptions Watters gave “were so irrelevant,” Hippler wrote, that it appeared he “may have blindly selected them at random.”

In a Facebook post in June, McGeachin accused a “liberal media outlet” of demanding the names and email addresses of those who submitted comments.

“...this would violate your rights and I am doing everything I can to protect your information. Why does the media want YOUR personal information,” she wrote.

“I remain committed to taking whatever legal actions are necessary to protect your personal information from being exposed by the media.”

McGeachin released these records Thursday – a month after Hippler ordered her to do so. The Idaho Press Club on Wednesday petitioned the court to have her held in contempt until she produced the records.

In McGeachin’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, she says the $50,000 was needed after she “was forced to find outside counsel following the abrupt termination of counsel and guidance from the Attorney General's Office after almost two months.”

A spokesperson for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

Watters also didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday morning.

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

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