ENA files lawsuit over Idaho Education Network payments

The lead vendor on the defunct Idaho Education Network project took the state of Idaho to federal court Friday.

Education Networks of America filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court — the latest installment in the 7-year-old battle over the statewide high school broadband system and its voided contract.

Friday’s 39-page lawsuit boils down to two key issues — including one new development in the Idaho Education Network fiasco.

First, ENA is seeking unspecified back payments and damages. The vendor has long alleged that it is owed back payments on the project — money the state put on hold as the Idaho Education Network contract dispute unfolded in state courts. In a March 2015 tort claim, a precursor to Friday’s lawsuit, ENA said it was owed about $6 million in back payments.

“ENA believes it should be fully paid for services it has provided to the State at the State’s request,” Philip Oberrecht, ENA’s Boise attorney, said in a statement released late Friday afternoon. “The issues with the contract were the fault of the state and not ENA.”

Lawrence Wasden
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden

Second, ENA is seeking legal cover. According to the lawsuit, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has “demanded repayment of all sums paid by the state to ENA for the (network).” The demand, made Aug. 9, had not been previously made public.

The question of whether ENA owes the state money is but one disputed issue in the Idaho Education Network fiasco. When the state Supreme Court declared the broadband contract void on March 1, the court demanded that the state seek repayment on the illegal contract.

The vendors have said they were paid only for services provided to and used by the state. Last month, Department of Administration Director Robert Geddes sided with the vendors, saying he would not seek repayments. That decision effectively kicked the issue to Wasden.

The state had paid $29.7 million to ENA and CenturyLink, a second project vendor.

Wasden spokesman Todd Dvorak did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Geddes also did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

ENA’s lawsuit and its laundry list of defendants illustrates the complexity of the Idaho Education Network legal free-for-all.

In addition to Wasden and Geddes, the defendants’ list includes the Department of Administration, the state agency that oversaw the Idaho Education Network project. Another defendant is Mike Gwartney — a longtime ally of Gov. Butch Otter, who orchestrated the disputed project contract during his time as Administration Department director.

ENA also sued 37 school districts and charter schools and one library, saying the parties received services from the vendor without paying for them. These defendants include the West Ada, Nampa, Twin Falls and Pocatello-Chubbuck school districts.

ENA’s lawsuit shuts the door on settlement talks, and an effort to keep the Idaho Education Network dispute from finding its way back into court.

Bedke, 3.25.16
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley

In the waning days of the 2016 session, lawmakers earmarked $8 million for a possible out-of-court settlement and authorized House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill to negotiate with ENA and CenturyLink.

On Friday evening, Bedke said he was disappointed but not surprised by the lawsuit.

“We tried, and I believe that we got close,” said Bedke, R-Oakley.