Boise firm gets $16,000 — so far — to defend Legislature in Ybarra lawsuit

A Boise law firm has billed taxpayers more than $16,000 to fight a lawsuit filed by state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

And that was before Holland and Hart filed any paperwork on the Legislature’s behalf.

On May 8, Holland and Hart submitted two invoices totaling $16,229, according to documents Idaho Education News obtained Monday, through a public records request.

The invoices shed more light on the cost of a turf battle pitting Ybarra against the Legislature and the State Board of Education. On April 24, Ybarra filed a lawsuit, contending the Legislature usurped Ybarra’s constitutional authority by transferring 18 full-time positions and $2.7 million to the State Board. Ybarra has said she was blindsided by the move to strip the jobs and funding from her State Department of Education.

All three adversaries in the case have hired their own legal teams.

Ybarra hired David Leroy, a former attorney general and lieutenant governor, under a contract that could be worth a maximum of $200,000. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office will represent the State Board.

Details of the Legislature’s arrangements with Holland and Hart are scarce.

Idaho Education News requested copies of all contracts or documents pertaining to the Legislature’s legal representation in the case. The state refused to release detailed invoices, “engagement letters” or other documents; Legislative Services Office Director Eric Milstead said these documents are confidential, citing attorney-client privilege.

On Friday afternoon, attorneys for Holland and Hart and Wasden’s office filed briefs responding to Ybarra’s lawsuit. Their documents make similar arguments.

Both briefs say the State Board is Idaho’s education policymaking body — not Ybarra, as Leroy contends. And both briefs say the Legislature has the authority to move positions and state dollars from one agency to another.

Passing the funding shift “is a prime example of the legislative appropriations process working like it should,” William G. Myers III writes on the Legislature’s behalf.

Leroy has until Friday to file his response.

The Idaho Supreme Court has scheduled a June 5 hearing on the case. The court has put the dispute on a fast track, since the law transferring the 18 positions and $2.7 million would go into effect on July 1.

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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