State asks judge to reconsider broadband ruling

(UPDATED, 4:59 p.m., with details on Friday’s meeting.)

The state is asking a judge to take another look at his decision to void the $60 million Idaho Education Network broadband contract.

In a 12-page motion filed Tuesday, the state’s outside counsel is asking District Judge Patrick Owen to either clarify his Nov. 10 ruling to toss out the contract, or reconsider his decision.

Owen said the contract was void when the state cut out one contractor on the high school broadband project, Syringa Networks Inc. And because that voided the contract, he said, the state cannot salvage the deal.

That ruling has critical implications, the state’s attorneys contend. This leaves the state without a contract “on which to order and run critical wide area network services for state agencies or under which to operate and fund the education network,” Merlyn Clark and Steven Schossberger write in the state’s motion.

The motion is just the latest legal maneuver in the 5-year-old legal battle over the Idaho Education Network contract. The system now provides broadband to 219 high schools across the state — but with the network still in legal limbo, millions of dollars of federally administered dollars for the network remain on hold as well. The 2014 Legislature came up with $11.4 million to replace these federally administered “e-rate” phone bill surcharges and keep the system in place through February. The 2015 Legislature may need to come up with as much as $11.6 million to keep the network online through June 30, 2016.

Tuesday’s motion was filed by attorneys for the Boise law firm Hawley, Troxell, Ennis and Hawley, which has represented the state in the legal process. The legal costs to defend the contract are approaching the $1 million mark, with the taxpayers’ share approaching $875,000, Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review reported last week.

The network’s Program Resource Advisory Council — a group of lawmakers and state and school officials that oversees the network — will meet Friday morning to discuss the latest legal filing. But it appears that virtually the entire meeting will take place behind closed doors.

The meeting agenda contains only one item — a closed executive session “to discuss the legal ramifications of and legal options for pending litigation, or controversies not yet being litigated but imminently likely to be litigated.” And that topic is the lawsuit in Owen’s court.

The meeting is slated for 9 a.m. at the West Conference Room of the J.R. Williams Building, 700 W. State St.