(UPDATED, 1:55 p.m., with clarification from State Board of Education.)
The State Board of Education has already racked up more than $81,000 in legal bills, as it defends itself in an ongoing open meetings lawsuit.
Trudy Hanson Fouser, the State Board’s hired attorney, has submitted $81,018.97 in invoices over three months. Idaho Education News obtained the bills Wednesday, through a public records request.
The bills — which run through Sept. 30 — reflect a portion of the public costs of a politically charged legal showdown over open meetings and the University of Idaho’s plan to purchase the University of Phoenix.
Attorney General Raúl Labrador filed a lawsuit on June 20, saying the State Board violated state law by discussing the $685 million Phoenix purchase during a series of closed-door executive sessions. The State Board has vehemently defended the meetings — saying the meetings constituted preliminary discussions of a purchase that was approved in a May 18 public meeting.
It is unusual for the attorney general, which provides legal counsel to state agencies, to sue one of those agencies. And the State Board responded within a week of the lawsuit.
State Board executive director Matt Freeman contacted Fouser on June 26, and Fouser’s Boise law firm began racking up billable hours that day. On June 30, Freeman sent a pointed letter to Labrador’s office, saying the board “now requires legal counsel who is both experienced in litigation and acting independent of Attorney General Labrador.”
According to the invoices, Fouser and her legal team have spent more than 330 hours working on the case through Sept. 30 — at billable hourly rates ranging from $150 to $300.
The invoices indicate that the state has paid none of these bills to date. In his June 30 letter, Freeman said the State Board would send its invoices to Labrador’s office for payment.
Labrador’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions about the payments.
But whether the State Board or Labrador’s office pays the $81,000, taxpayers will be on hook for two sets of legal bills — including the attorney general’s costs of pressing the lawsuit.
Nearly four months in, the lawsuit remains unresolved.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Oct. 26 — and at that time, Ada County District Judge Jason Scott could issue his ruling.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.