Lawmaker sued under public records act for ethics documents
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho lawmaker who was censured after publicizing the name of a 19-year-old intern who reported being raped is being sued under the state’s public records act.
Attorney Erika Birch filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from White Bird, contending Giddings didn’t comply with state law when she denied a public records requests for documents related to the ethics cases against Giddings and former Republican lawmaker Aaron von Ehlinger.
Giddings, who is running for lieutenant governor, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. But in a campaign email sent to constituents Thursday, Giddings called the case a “nuisance lawsuit” from the “Boise swamp” and wrote that the requested records don’t exist. She asked supporters to contribute money to her campaign to help fight the lawsuit.
“This lawsuit is over a ‘public records request’ for records that don’t exist. The legislative services office even searched all my files and found nothing related to their request,” Giddings wrote in the email.
Wendy Olson, the attorney representing Birch and Birch’s law firm Strindberg Scholnick Birch Hallam Harstad Thorne in the case, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Giddings faced criticism and became the subject of two ethics complaints last year for her actions after her colleague was accused of rape. Shortly after the rape allegations became public, Giddings publicized the intern’s name, photo and personal details about her life by sharing links to a far-right website post on social media and in a newsletter to constituents. With her identity revealed, the intern was subjected to repeated harassment and ridicule from some of von Ehlinger’s supporters.
Both von Ehlinger — then a state representative from Lewiston — and Giddings faced separate ethics complaints for their actions. Birch represented the intern during the ethics investigations. Von Ehlinger ultimately resigned rather than face a vote on whether he should be suspended from the Statehouse. He was also criminally charged, and has pleaded not guilty to rape in state court. That trial is scheduled for April.
After Gidding’s ethics hearing, the committee found that Giddings did disseminate the intern’s name and that she lied and was disrespectful to the lawmakers tasked with investigating the matter. Giddings was censured and stripped of her seat on the Commerce and Human Resources Committee for “conduct unbecoming a legislator.”
In the lawsuit, Birch said she filed a public record request for written or electronic communications between Giddings and von Ehlinger regarding the intern, the release of information about the intern, and the various ethics investigations against Giddings and von Ehlinger. Birch also asked for written and electronic communication between Giddings or her representatives and von Ehlinger’s former attorney David Leroy, who also released the intern’s name.
According to the lawsuit, Giddings responded by stating that her office “does not have any public record related to your request that isn’t already public,” and that she “considers this request closed.”
Two days later, Birch sent another email reminding Giddings that the Idaho Public Records Act required her to provide the documents or explain why the request was denied under state law. After no response, according to the lawsuit, Birch sent an additional follow-up email, again asking Giddings to provide the requested documents. Giddings never responded, nor did she cite the legal basis for denying the request, Birch said in the lawsuit.
Birch wants a judge to order Giddings to turn over the records, to pay for Birch’s legal fees and for any civil penalties if Giddings is found to have improperly refused the request.