Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin is defending her initial refusal to release public records from her Task Force to Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education. She said her refusal was an attempt to keep media members from exposing the identity and personal information of those who submitted public comments to the task force.
McGeachin held a press conference Thursday at Ammon Elementary School with Republican Attorney General candidate Art Macomber, of Coeur d’Alene. She said the purpose of the conference was to “set the record straight” regarding the litigation her office has been involved with the Idaho Press Club.
“I was trying to protect parents, teachers and students and students who were blowing the whistle at some of the things that were happening in their communities,” McGeachin said.
The press conference, which was announced in a Wednesday afternoon news release, included campaign talk that appears to have violated Idaho law because it took place on school grounds.
In 2018, the Legislature passed a provision of the Public Integrity in Elections Act that stated, “... it is against the public policy of the state of Idaho for public funds, resources or property to be used to advocate for or against a candidate or ballot measure.”
Efforts to reach Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Clark for comment about the reported violation were unsuccessful Thursday. Any prosecution would be left to Clark’s discretion.
Bonneville Joint School District 93 Superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said in a Wednesday email to the Post Register he was unaware McGeachin was holding a press conference at the school.
“No one from the Lieutenant Governor’s office has contacted the principal or district administration about using Ammon Elementary for any event,” Woolstenhulme said in the email. “The principal at Ammon told me that a parent at his school had asked to use the auditorium for a meeting, but did not disclose the purpose of the meeting.”
The district makes buildings available for community use outside of school hours as long as community members follow district policy. The district currently has a mask requirement in place, which it does not enforce with outside groups. Neither McGeachin nor Macomber were wearing masks at the press conference.
During Thursday’s event McGeachin provided no examples of media members doxing, or exposing information about Idaho residents. Instead, McGeachin took aim at several media members and publications for “mischaracterizing her of being contempt in court” including the Idaho Statesman, East Idaho News, the Lewiston Tribune, KTVB and the Associated Press. She also called out Idaho Statesman opinion writer Bryan Clark and Idaho Statesman reporter Nichole Blanchard for their recent reporting of the case.
McGeachin and Macomber took no questions from reporters in attendance, referring them to the office of the state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
The Idaho Press Club sued McGeachin in July after she wrongly denied public record requests from several journalists related to materials about the task force, which was investigating alleged “indoctrination” of topics in Idaho public schools including critical race theory, socialism, communism and Marxism.
McGeachin said Thursday that she was more than willing to provide the comments that journalists were requesting after she had redacted peoples’ names. She did not acknowledge that most comments expressed opposition to the task force as these commenters felt the “indoctrination” claims were unfounded.
In July, the Idaho Press Club sued McGeachin, asking a judge to order her to fully release the records about her task force and comply with the timelines set under the state’s Public Records Act, the Associated Press reported.
Fourth District Judge Steven Hippler ordered McGeachin to release the documents. Weeks after Hippler’s ruling, McGeachin asked the judge to reconsider and failed to comply with an order directing her to file additional legal documents supporting her request for reconsideration, the Associated Press reported.
In August, Hippler fined McGeachin $750 for her “bad faith” violations of the Idaho Public Records Act, Idaho Press reporter Betsy Russell reported. Hippler also ordered her to pay the Idaho Press Club’s attorney fees and costs for its successful lawsuit challenging her improper denial of public records requests from four different Idaho reporters for public comments submitted to her task force.
Macomber blamed Wasden’s office for giving McGeachin bad advice in the Press Club case.
“The AG’s office wasted approximately a month and a half with unfounded legal arguments in response to the public records request and then backed off and recommended she get a second opinion when the Idaho Press Club demanded the documents and a court case loomed on the horizon,” Macomber said. “It’s not surprising that the AG’s office refused to continue representing her after completely undermining her trust in its counsel.”
The Attorney General’s Office disputed that account.
In a statement, Idaho Attorney General Spokesman Scott Graf wrote, “The Office of the Attorney General offered its final legal counsel on this matter to the lieutenant governor on June 7, 2021. Following that communication, the lieutenant governor made an independent decision to seek outside representation. Then — approximately six weeks after our final counsel — the Idaho Press Club filed its lawsuit.”
Macomber took time during the press conference to campaign for his attorney general bid and said his advice would be dependable and that conservative elected officials would have a true defender in office if he was attorney general. He said Wasden’s office should pay the near $30,000 in attorneys’ fees that was levied against McGeachin.
“If the AG does not pay for its bad lawyering, approximately 16% of the lieutenant governor’s yearly budget will have to go to pay for the AG’s lack of integrity in defending her legal opinion,” Macomber said.
The Attorney General’s Office statement rebutted that claim, “... 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.
“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.”
By the end of September, the Idaho Press Club asked Hippler to hold McGeachin in contempt of court and order her to be held in jail until she turned over the public records, the Associated Press reported. Hippler formally denied McGeachin’s reconsideration request and her office released the records shortly after.
On Friday, the Idaho Press Club has dropped its request that McGeachin be held in contempt of court for refusing to turn over public records related to her education task force, the Associated Press reported.
The Associated Press also reported McGeachin requested an additional $50,000 in taxpayer money to cover what she called “unforeseen legal bills” related to the lawsuit earlier this month. McGeachin said this was a lie because her office’s budget is appropriated by the Idaho Legislature.
“To suggest that I’m someone to take advantage of the taxpayer is a gross misrepresentation,” McGeachin said. “Not only has the judge released the identity of constituents’ identities and personal information, the judge has also ordered that my office pay the legal fees of the Idaho Press Club.”
The Idaho Press Club disputed McGeachin’s account, noting that the lieutenant governor and her counsel agreed to pay the fees and costs.
“It was only after the Press Club filed a motion to have her held in contempt of court until she released the records that, the very next day, she finally did so, on Sept. 30.
“The Press Club and McGeachin, in consultation with our attorneys, then filed a joint motion to drop the contempt motion, in exchange for McGeachin’s release of all the records and payment of fees and costs,” the Idaho Press Club said in a statement. “The Press Club requested fees and costs only through Aug. 26, not for the remaining month-plus that the case stretched on. The court approved the order this week, and ordered McGeachin to pay $28,973.84 in fees and costs, plus the civil penalty of $750. She and her attorneys agreed to this.
“On Sept. 8, McGeachin submitted a supplemental budget request for “$50,000 in supplemental funding to pay for legal bills that cannot be covered by the Lt. Governor’s Office current budget without reducing staff hours and constituent services,” directly citing this case.
“No fees, costs or fines would have been incurred had the lieutenant governor simply released the records when requested, as the law requires.”