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Judge awards $240,000 to Idaho Board of Ed in U Phoenix lawsuit

An Ada County judge has rejected an open meetings lawsuit against the Idaho State Board of Education — a potential breakthrough for the $685 million University of Phoenix purchase.
Idaho Education News
Members of the Idaho State Board of Education.

Attorney General Raúl Labrador must pay more than $240,000 in legal fees and court costs to the State Board of Education’s hired lawyers.

The court order, issued late Tuesday, stems from Labrador’s lengthy, and ongoing, lawsuit of the State Board’s closed-door discussions of the proposed University of Phoenix purchase.

Labrador sued the State Board in June, and the board hired the Boise law firm Gjording Fouser to work on its defense. In January, Ada County District Judge Jason Scott ruled that the board’s closed meetings were legal.

On Tuesday, Scott sided with the State Board again, for the most part.

“The conflict of interest created by the office of the attorney general necessitated the hiring of private counsel,” Scott wrote.

Scott ordered Labrador’s office to pay $242,726.02 in legal fees and court costs.

But Scott pared down the bottom line; Gjording Fouser had sought nearly $275,000.

Some of the firm’s invoices were so heavily redacted that Scott said he could not determine whether all the bills were reasonable. He said other invoices were “block billed;” the billing entries were not itemized and covered multiple tasks, which makes it impossible to break out costs connected to the State Board case.

In a statement Wednesday morning, the State Board criticized Labrador for pressing an “unnecessary and unsuccessful” lawsuit. “The State Board is grateful to be vindicated by the court once again. Although the attorney general must pay those costs from his budget, it is profoundly unfortunate that taxpayers ultimately must bear the cost of this frivolous litigation.”

But in its statement Wednesday morning, Labrador’s office doubled down. “We disagree with the decision and expect to prevail on appeal. At the end of the day, this attorneys’ fees decision will not matter.”

Scott’s order doesn’t close the books on the open meetings case — which has pitted Labrador’s office against Gov. Brad Little’s State Board appointees, and has slowed the University of Idaho’s controversial $685 million plan to acquire Phoenix. The State Board approved the purchase in May, after its series of contested closed meetings.

Labrador has appealed the open meetings case to the Idaho Supreme Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for June.

U of I and State Board officials have said the lawsuit has put Phoenix financing on hold. A U of I-affiliated organization, Four Three Education, still needs to go into the bond market to finance the deal.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix purchase is also facing political pushback — as the Legislature seeks to put its imprint on the deal. A Senate committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would restructure the purchase.

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This story was originally published by Idaho Ed News.