Legislature hires own lawyers to defend new initiative law

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court has agreed to allow the state Legislature to intervene in two lawsuits that challenge the same restrictive voter initiative law, meaning taxpayers will pay for two separate legal teams in each case.

The state will be represented by the Idaho attorney general’s office in both cases, and in addition, the Legislature will be represented by private attorneys led by William G. Myers III of the firm Holland & Hart, the Idaho Press reported.

State lawmakers approved an additional $4 million in taxpayer funding for the Legislative Legal Defense Fund, which is split between the House and Senate. The House portion this year had dropped to a zero balance. But the Idaho Press reported that public records show Myers is being paid $470 an hour. It is unclear how much the state has paid him so far.

However, officials said the attorney general’s hourly rate for legal representation through the statewide cost-allocation system is about $58 an hour. If the office contracts with outside attorneys, it’s $88.

The money is separate from the state’s Constitutional Defense Fund, which is used to pay attorney fees for lawsuits the state lost, officials said.

“I think it’s important to realize that the Legislature is the body that passed the legislation, and therefore it has the greatest interest in it,” Republican state Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder said, adding that the attorney general’s office will focus on different aspects of the law in its defense.

The law requires signatures from 6% of registered voters in each of the state’s 35 legislative districts to qualify an initiative or referendum for the Idaho ballot. Currently, the law requires 6% from 18 districts.

Reclaim Idaho, one of the groups suing over the new initiative law, is arguing the change gives residents of a single legislative district veto power to prevent any future measures from qualifying for the ballot, eliminating the constitutional rights of everyone else. The group also opposed the Legislature’s motion to intervene in the case.

“The Attorney General is vigorously representing the respondents and defending the constitutionality of the statutes challenged here,” Attorney Deborah Ferguson said. “As a practical matter, the Legislature may be better served by having the Attorney General defend the statute.”

A separate lawsuit challenging the same law was filed by Michael Gilmore, a retired former deputy Idaho attorney general, who filed his lawsuit as an individual, the Idaho Press reported.

Democratic state House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, an attorney, said it was “frustrating” to see taxpayer dollars being used twice.

Winder defended the decision, saying Myers is highly qualified and it’s worth the price “as long as you win.”

Myers is the former solicitor for the U.S. Department of Interior and has previously worked for the U.S. Department of Energy and Department of Justice.


This story has been updated to correct that in both cases, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office will represent the state and a private law firm will represent the Legislature.