State Board wants a judge to toss Labrador lawsuit

(UPDATED, 2:26 p.m., to correct attribution of a comment from Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office.)

The State Board of Education’s hired attorney wants a judge to toss Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s open meetings lawsuit against the board.

Labrador’s arguments against the State Board — and its closed-door meetings to discuss the University of Idaho’s plans to acquire the University of Phoenix — “needlessly undermine the people’s trust in government,” Boise attorney Trudy Hanson Fouser writes in her motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

Fouser’s July 18 motion continues a legal battle between the elected head of the state’s law firm and a powerful education policymaking body made up largely of gubernatorial appointments. It also steps up the rhetoric over the State Board’s support of the $685 million purchase of Phoenix, a for-profit online giant serving some 85,000 students.

The motion for dismissal attacks two of Labrador’s key arguments against the board’s three closed-door discussions of the Phoenix purchase.

  • The closed meetings constituted “preliminary discussions” of the purchase — as state law allows — because the U of I’s Phoenix acquisition isn’t likely to be a done deal for months. “Preliminary negotiations are still ongoing and will remain ongoing,” Fouser writes. Labrador has questioned whether the closed discussions were preliminary, especially since the State Board approved the purchase three days after its third and final executive session on May 15.
  • The State Board “reasonably believed” that other bidders were looking at acquiring Phoenix, Fouser wrote, even after the University of Arkansas board of regents voted in April to break off its talks. The board cited competition as its justification for the closed meetings. Labrador has suggested the competition for Phoenix dried up when Arkansas dropped out of the running.

The motion also makes a couple of procedural arguments against Labrador’s lawsuit. Fouser says Labrador mistakenly sued the State Board — and not, technically, the U of I’s board of regents, which is made up of the board’s eight members. Fouser also says Labrador’s June 20 filing failed to meet a 30-day deadline for an open meetings lawsuit.

Labrador’s office declined to comment on the motion.

“We have no additional comment beyond what we have previously provided on the lawsuit,” Labrador spokeswoman Beth Cahill said Tuesday.

The State Board hired Fouser’s firm, Gjording Fouser, saying it needed independent counsel to defend itself against Labrador’s lawsuit.

A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for Aug. 3.

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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