Attorney General Raúl Labrador is embarking on an “abusive” and taxpayer-funded fishing expedition, the State Board of Education’s lawyer argued in a court filing Monday.
At issue is a battery of subpoenas and calls for depositions, as Labrador continues to press his lawsuit against the State Board, and the closed meetings leading up to the board’s May 18 vote supporting the University of Idaho’s purchase of the University of Phoenix.
The attorney general’s far-ranging requests — and Monday’s pointed response from Trudy Fouser, the State Board’s hired outside counsel — reflect the escalating legal battle over the Phoenix purchase. The political staredown pits Labrador against Gov. Brad Little’s allies on the State Board. State Board and U of I officials have said the dispute goes beyond politics, since it could jeopardize the $685 million Phoenix purchase.
The latest legal maneuvers began on Sept. 11, when Labrador’s office issued the first of a series of subpoenas. The subpoenas seek a broad range of documents from the State Board, Phoenix and Tyton Partners, the financial advisers working on the sale on behalf of the for-profit online university. Some of the requests focus on a key question in the lawsuit: whether the U of I faced competition with other would-be Phoenix suitors.
For example, Phoenix and Tyton Partners are expected to produce correspondence with “any governing body in any state or nation who expressed interest in acquiring the University of Phoenix.”
Labrador’s office also requested no less than a dozen sworn depositions — all within an eight-day period spanning from Oct. 6 to Oct. 13. Ten depositions target the State Board, including eight separate sessions with each individual board member.
Fouser said the subpoenas, and an “absurd” compressed schedule of depositions, amount to an attempt to harass board members and delay the purchase. Fouser again accused Labrador of trying to torpedo the Phoenix deal, by using his open meetings lawsuit to question the “wisdom” of the purchase.
“Rather than focus on the issues at hand, plaintiff seeks to use discovery to delve into the merits of the transaction, to harass defendant and third parties, and to undertake a fishing expedition, all at significant expense to all involved, including Idaho taxpayers.”
Labrador spokeswoman Beth Cahill declined comment Tuesday afternoon, but said Labrador’s office will file a written response in court Thursday.
It’s unclear what will become of Fouser’s motion. She asked District Judge Jason Scott to take up the matter as soon as possible.
Fouser’s motion requests a protective order against Labrador’s office. In civil cases, a protective order is designed to shield a party from costly or burdensome subpoenas.
Labrador’s June 20 lawsuit focused on the State Board’s closed-door meetings to discuss a possible Phoenix purchase. The board held three closed executive sessions from March until May. The final meeting took place three days before the board met in open session and gave the purchase the go-ahead.
Labrador has said the meetings went beyond preliminary discussions of a purchase. And he has questioned whether the U of I was actually competing against other potential suitors — the board’s stated rationale for the closed-door meetings.