State Board lawsuit takes another twist

Attorney General Raúl Labrador wants to depose one of his own lawyers.

In a court motion Monday, Labrador’s legal team asked for permission to question Jenifer Marcus, a deputy attorney general assigned to the State Board of Education.

The motion is the latest twist in a lawsuit challenging closed-door discussions of the University of Idaho’s proposed purchase of the University of Phoenix. The open meetings case is a civil matter. However, both sides agree that if Labrador prevails in court, it could torpedo the controversial $685 million acquisition.

Marcus, the State Board’s longtime in-house attorney, is a key figure in the five-month-old legal struggle between Labrador and the board. In their own depositions, board members said they relied on Marcus’ advice before holding three closed executive sessions to discuss the Phoenix purchase. The board cited an open meetings law exemption covering transactions that pit an Idaho public agency against out-of-state public bidders.

Deposing Marcus is necessary, deputy attorney general Gregory Woodard said in Monday’s motion. He said the sworn statement would address the sole question at the heart of the lawsuit: whether the U of I was in competition for Phoenix, competition that would justify the closed-door discussions.

While the case centers on this one question, Monday’s motion illustrates the intricacies of this legal struggle. While Marcus remains assigned to the State Board, the board has hired independent counsel to handle the case. While Marcus is not involved in the lawsuit, a judge has ordered Labrador and his staff to have no contact with her about the case.

Woodard acknowledged the court’s order in the motion, but suggested the court’s order does not preclude Labrador’s office from taking a deposition. The request for the court’s permission reflects “an abundance of caution,” he wrote.

Woodard said he would hope to schedule a deposition in December.

A trial in the case is scheduled for Jan. 22.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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