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Idaho’s lawyer retirement fund

rainey BARRETT


I gotta admit. Writing a think piece or two a week can be tough when you hit a dry spell. “Writer’s block” it’s called. Just nothing in the tank. But every so often, inspiration comes along like a lighting strike. BOOM! Such a “loud” inspiration struck the other day – easy enough for even that Palin woman to put it together. Well, almost.

Idaho’s attorney general has been trying to make the case with legislative budget types for a larger legal staff. Eight years he’s been scratching on that door without success. Of course, what success can you have when your hard-to-focus governor passes the idea off wittily by telling the media “We don’t need more money for lawyers. We need fewer Idahoans suing the state.” Butch always was a “big concept” guy.

Last three years, Gem State paymasters – read “taxpayers” – have coughed up $18 million for outside attorneys to help the state’s understaffed staff. $18 million! Downtown legal beagles charge $125 $400 an hour for their help. A.G. Wasden bills his staff lawyer’s work about $54 an hour. As I said, even that Palin woman could subtract a smaller number from a large one and – with help – see the problem. But – alas! She’d be wrong. Again.

Here’s the problem. The 105 people on the third floor of the Idaho Statehouse euphemistically called “legislators.” If you replaced that number with about the bottom 10% of any local high school graduating class, you’d solve the issue. Because “the issues” are outright stupid bills written, passed and sent to various governors. Session after session after session. Year after year after year. And they are SIGNED! Over and over and over.

Case in point. A state senator named Vick has put one of these “ain’t-got-a-chance-in-court” bills in committee. It would charge any Idaho cop who tried to enforce any as-yet unwritten federal gun law with a crime. If the guv signs it into law, which legal meter starts running? The $54 an hour in the A.G.’s office or the $400 an hour downtown? You guess.

Case in point: At a speed to make Carl Lewis proud, the folks on the third floor are ramming through a bill allowing concealed carry of guns on Idaho college campuses. On public record already: no college president wants it – no police chief wants it – most students don’t want it. Teens, alcohol, drugs and concealed 9mm’s. What could possibly go wrong? This one will be in court before the first shot’s fired.

Case in point: Another Senator – Thayne by name – has put this little gem up for consideration. If the current POTUS somehow declares war on another nation – which he can’t – Idaho and all who live there would be exempt. Wouldn’t have to fight. Just ignore the war. Now, even I know only Congress can declare a war. But nobody told Thayne – er – Sen. Thayne. Or George Bush, for that matter. So if a majority of the other 104 upstairs sent this bowl of idiocy down to the governor – and he forgot his one constitutional law class of 50 years ago and signed it – whose legal meter starts on this one? And at what per-hour cost? With what outcome?

Terrible case(s) in point. Ol’ Rep. Luker and his two ALEC-written pieces of guaranteed court time that would allow Idahoans not do business with gay or homosexual citizens – or others who “offended” someone’s “religious sensibilities” – to refuse service regardless of the 1964 Civil Rights Act or other laws. Say, a gay man was robbed but a Pentecostal-believing sheriff refused to do anything based on his “sincerely held religious belief” that the gay man’s “lifestyle” was an affront to the sheriff’s way of life. Can’t you just see the worms struggling to get out of the can on that one? Do we hire the $54 an hour Deputy A.G. or does Idaho government turn to the $400 an hour private folk downtown? Again, to what end? It’s a loser. Mr. Luker has withdrawn his paperwork while he “thinks” about it. Prediction? It’ll come back in some form. This year or next. Bet the farm on it.

NOTE: Arizona has just put this on their books. Let them pay the big legal bucks!

I’ve watched the Idaho Legislature for 50 years or so. And I can tell you – without hesitation – the quality control department has closed. For decades – with assistance from a series of governors on the second floor – Idaho taxpayers have underwritten a permanent “Idaho Lawyer’s Perpetual Retirement Fund.” ILPRF for you government readers. And the won-loss record isn’t even close. Big bucks paid. “Laws” shot down in flames.

Even with pretty constant use of several search engines, I have yet to find a state that’s had to go to court to defend dumb state laws more often than Idaho. Or one that LOST more often! I’ve tried to get my attorney daughter to quit her job on a neighboring state’s A.G.’s legal staff and open up a small office in Boise specializing in just defending the Idaho Legislature. My grandkids could not only GO to Harvard. They could BUY the place!

The kicker to all this: more often than not, Idaho’s A.G. Wasden has told the legally obtuse upstairs – well in advance – what they were doing was likely wrong – probably unconstitutional on its face – another legal loser. To no avail!

The breakdown of quality control in selection of Idaho’s legislators really rests with voters. Most specifically Idaho GOP voters, since that party took almost all the keys to legislative bathrooms away from Democrats years ago by keeping the number of the opposition down to a point they need only one. It’s been those same voters who’ve gullibly given anything breathing with an “R” after it a seat in the chambers. Many sent annually to Boise in recent years have failed the admission test of pounding sand into rat holes but they’re not being exposed by keeping the failed efforts classified. The absolute proof has been this record faulty “legal”output.

Many states are racking up more bad legislation cases these days with the advent of ALEC. The one-size-fits-all effluent coming from that right wing “Hall of Legislative Horrors” has meant poorly-conceived bills on abortion, taxes, limiting voting rights and outright racial and religious discrimination. So, duplicate laws in more states have gone down in flames more often because of thoughtless rubberstamp enactment – time after time. One state loses and eight carbon copies fall as well. But the lawyers. Yes, Virginia, the lawyers – they win. Win, lose or draw. The ILPRF keeps paying off.

So, give a thought to Idaho taxpayers from time to time. They’re paying higher – much, much higher – costs-per-vote than you because they have to pay for all that time in court. And they lose so often.

But the lawyers? The Idaho lawyers. As long as the legislature refuses the A.G. more staff attorneys – and his legal advice – theirs is a splendid life of just staying near an open Statehouse window, listening for the scratching sound of the governor’s pen on the next piece of unconstitutional legislation. The well-worn road from downtown to Statehouse and over to the courthouse is a definition of perpetual motion.

Good old ILPRF. More assured than state retirement.

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