Lawyering up: U of I racks up nearly $200,000 in unexplained legal bills

This screenshot represents the heavily redacted documents the University of Idaho provided to Idaho Education News. However, the U of I failed to redact some sensitive data, not shown here — namely, Hawley Troxell’s employer ID number and bank account number.

The University of Idaho has paid a Boise law firm nearly $200,000 so far this year — with almost no explanation.

However, it appears that much of Hawley Troxell’s work stems from the U of I’s controversial bid to buy the University of Phoenix.

In response to an Idaho Education News public records request, the U of I released a series of heavily redacted invoices from Hawley Troxell.

Claiming attorney-client privilege, the university blacked out nearly the entire invoices — including the descriptions of legal services, itemized billings, and even the hourly rates of attorneys who performed work on behalf of the public university.

The U of I released little more than the bottom line, which totaled $196,343.60 for the first half of 2023.

The costs break down as follows:

“Strategic alliance.” The firm has received $156,145.10 for legal services supporting a “strategic alliance.” The alliance is unexplained, but the invoices suggest a connection to the Phoenix purchase.

The invoices began to pick up in March — weeks after U of I and State Board of Education officials began quietly discussing a Phoenix purchase. And the university racked up nearly $79,000 in “strategic alliance”-related legal bills just in the month of May, when the U of I went public with its $685 million plan to acquire Phoenix, and the State Board approved the plan to buy the for-profit online giant.

Public records. Since May 1, Hawley Troxell has received $11,877.50 for reviewing public records requests to the U of I.

This could be related to what the U of I has called an uptick in records requests, since its proposed Phoenix purchase went public.

“We have a number of requests relating to the University of Phoenix matter and must now review a voluminous amount of material with a staff already stretched very thin,” U of I Acting General Counsel Kent Nelson said in a June 19 email to EdNews. “I have found it necessary to hire outside counsel who have joined in the review.”

Open meeting issues. All of these legal bills, totaling $28,321, were incurred after June 20. That’s the date when Attorney General Raúl Labrador filed a lawsuit, saying the State Board’s closed-door discussions of the Phoenix purchase violated open meetings law. The lawsuit did not name the U of I as a defendant.

While Hawley Troxell’s legal bills remain shrouded in secrecy, the firm’s connection to the Phoenix purchase has been well established.

The university hired Hawley Troxell to review the purchase before seeking State Board approval, former board president Kurt Liebich wrote in May. And a U of I “frequently asked questions” page on the purchase links to a June 7 Hawley Troxell legal opinion on constitutional questions surrounding the transaction.

On May 24, EdNews requested “any reports and analyses” completed by Hawley Troxell, relative to the Phoenix purchase. More than two months later, the U of I has not responded to this request — even though state law requires a response within 10 business days.


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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