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Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin on Thursday held a news conference at an elementary school alongside attorney general candidate Art Macomber to “set the record straight regarding the litigation in which the Lt. Governor’s office has recently been engaged,” according to a news release.
McGeachin spoke at Ammon Elementary School in East Idaho at 3 p.m., where she discussed her court loss to the Idaho Press Club over public records related to her task force on supposed indoctrination in Idaho public schools. A judge ruled in August that McGeachin had to release unredacted copies of responses to a Google Form soliciting feedback for the task force.
McGeachin did not release the records until early October, after the Press Club asked Ada County 4th District Judge Steven Hippler to hold McGeachin in contempt of court for failing to produce the public records.
During her press conference, McGeachin, a Republican, blamed the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and said she “acted on their advice” in her initial denial of the records. McGeachin held up a sheet of paper she claimed was proof of the legal counsel she received.
She also blamed the media for its reporting on the lawsuit and the $50,000 in taxpayer money she requested to pay for the legal costs. She maintained that she would have released the public comments without identities. (A copy of the records that was supplied to Idaho Capital Sun reporter Audrey Dutton on June 3 redacted names, contact information and the feedback those individuals had submitted.)
“My goal was never to withhold public comments from the press but to protect Idahoans from the media,” McGeachin said.
Macomber, who is running for attorney general in the GOP primary, also blamed the result of the lawsuit on the AG’s office, saying it gave McGeachin “bad advice” and then refused to represent her. He said Republican AG Lawrence Wasden’s office should pay for nearly $30,000 in attorney fees and said McGeachin could lose 60% of her office’s budget.
In an emailed statement, Attorney General’s Office spokesperson Scott Graf said the AG offered its final legal counsel to McGeachin on June 7, about six weeks before the Idaho Press Club first brought its lawsuit. Graf said McGeachin “made an independent decision to seek outside representation” prior to the lawsuit.
“Attorney client privilege precludes us from discussing the specifics of our counsel at this point. However, the lawsuit, the lieutenant governor’s loss in court and the subsequent financial burden Idaho taxpayers now face all resulted from independent decisions made by the lieutenant governor in consultation with her chosen attorney after June 7,” Graf said.
“This entire matter is an excellent demonstration of why government should seek legal counsel that it needs to hear instead of what it wants to hear,” he added.
In a statement Thursday evening, the Idaho Press Club said Judge Hippler made it quite clear why McGeachin was ordered to release the public records. The organization also said it requested McGeachin pay fees and costs through Aug. 26, the date when Hippler initially ruled in the Press Club’s favor.
“No fees, costs or fines would have been incurred had the lieutenant governor simply released the records when requested, as the law requires,” the statement said.
During the Thursday news conference, Macomber brought up his campaign for the state office and said his advice would be “dependable.”
“As your attorney general, our conservative elected officials will finally have a true defender in office,” he said.
IdahoEdNews reporter Devin Bodkin said in a tweet Thursday afternoon that, according to Bonneville Joint School District superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme, no one from McGeachin’s office contacted the district or Ammon Elementary principal to discuss the use of the school for McGeachin’s event.
In an email to Bodkin that the reporter shared online, Woolstenhulme said a parent asked the school’s principal for use of the auditorium for a meeting, but did not disclose the purpose of the meeting.