AMMON — Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin Thursday attacked media coverage of her refusal to release public documents, and a string of legal woes that have followed her as a result.
During an unusual appearance at Ammon Elementary School, in which McGeachin refused to take questions from reporters, she dismissed coverage of the ordeal and its fallout as “blatant lies and attacks” from news organizations across the state.
“My goal was never to withhold public comments from the press but to protect Idahoans from the media,” said a defiant McGeachin, echoing past claims that she withheld names on public documents in order to protect citizens speaking out about concerns over indoctrination in schools.
After reading her statement, McGeachin walked out of the school auditorium silently behind Idaho attorney general candidate and attorney Art Macomber, who also spoke briefly on McGeachin’s behalf Thursday.
In June, the Idaho Capital Sun reported that McGeachin’s office refused to release unredacted comments tied to her education task force, which for months probed claims of purported indoctrination. Several other news organizations, including Idaho Education News, requested copies of the comments.
Following a legal complaint from the Idaho Press Club, a district court judge ruled in favor of the Idaho Press Club in August.
Judge Steven Hippler ordered McGeachin’s office to release the forms and pay legal fees to the Idaho Press Club, along with a $750 fine for “bad faith” violations of the public records law.
“It appears to the court that (McGeachin) would stop at nothing, no matter how misguided, to shield public records from the public,” Hippler wrote in a scathing 27-page ruling. “The disclosure of public records is prescribed by law, and fear mongering has no place in the calculus.”
McGeachin finally released the documents after a second order from the judge. A review of unredacted comments revealed that most of the feedback was either critical of McGeachin’s task force or pushed back against claims of indoctrination in schools.
McGeachin’s office requested $50,000 in taxpayer funds in the wake of the judge’s order, the Idaho Statesman reported on Oct. 1.
“The press reported matters tied to the lawsuit unfairly,” McGeachin complained Thursday, lamenting her office’s “incredibly lean” budget to handle legal fees it accrued.
The Idaho Press Club weighed in Thursday afternoon: “The judge made it very clear why we won our public records lawsuit against Lt. Gov. McGeachin: She unlawfully refused to release public records requested by four different reporters, for months on end.”
McGeachin and Macomber also laid blame for her legal woes on Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office. Her office worked with Wasden’s office for over a month before she received abrupt notification that Wasden’s office would no longer defend their position “because of composition of the task force,” McGeachin claimed Thursday, waving an email above her head as proof — but she refused to show reporters the email or answer questions about it.
“This entire matter is an excellent demonstration of why the government should seek legal counsel it needs to hear instead of what it wants to hear,” a spokesman from Wasden’s office said in response.
Other oddities from Thursday include a thank you from McGeachin to school leaders for allowing her to use the auditorium and Macomber’s legal defense of the lieutenant governor “at no charge.”
In what appears to be a deleted tweet from Macomber’s Twitter account, he criticized McGeachin’s request for taxpayer funds to cover “her bills.”
“That won’t happen!” Macomber appears to have tweeted last week.
Macomber ignored questions from EdNews and another reporter regarding whether he wrote the tweet.
Bonneville School District Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme told EdNews Thursday that neither he nor Ammon Elementary’s principal received a request from McGeachin’s office for use of the auditorium. Rather, a parent made the request, Woolstenhulme added, but didn’t say why.
Neither McGeahin nor Macomber wore masks Thursday, despite a mask mandate in Bonneville’s schools.
“We are under a mask requirement and respectfully ask outside groups using our facilities to comply with that, but are not taking any steps to enforce with outside groups,” Woolstenhulme said in an email to EdNews.