The following Op-Ed was submitted by Joseph Gish. Op-Eds do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those at the Idaho Dispatch.
As voters inform themselves about the candidates requesting their votes in the May 17, 2022 primary elections, they should understand the incumbent Idaho Attorney General candidate Lawrence G. Wasden is no supporter of Idaho’s Transparent and Ethical Government laws. In February of 2021 AG Wasden ignored a complaint filed against the Nez Perce County prosecutor who refused to enforce Title 74 Open Meeting Law within his jurisdiction, and then directly appointed a special prosecutor in Latah county to enforce the Open Meeting violation he refused to enforce himself. Both these actions by the Nez Perce County prosecutor were violations of Idaho’s Transparent and Ethical Government laws, and AG Wasden could care less.
In late 2020 the Lewiston City Council was the subject of six “Open Meeting” violation complaints as they shut citizens out of public City Council Meetings where votes on mask mandates were taking place. Although the County Prosecutor, Justin Coleman, ruled against the City Council in the first complaint, he later decided to assert a “conflict of interest” and assigned one Open Meeting violation complaint directly to the Latah County prosecutor. The complaint happened to be about the same meeting the then Lewiston city manager Alan Nygaard was charged with misdemeanor battery of a citizen attempting to listen to the council meeting. The county prosecutor cited a contract his office had with the City of Lewiston as the source of the conflict of interest, but later asserted the conflict of interest would remain even if the contract did not exist.
Idaho State Statute 74-208(5) states:
“…and the prosecuting attorneys of the various counties shall have the duty to enforce this act in relation to local public agencies within their respective jurisdictions.”
The Nez Perce County Prosecutor’s first violation of Idaho State Statute was refusing to enforce Idaho Open Meeting Law within his jurisdiction by citing an unspecified “conflict of interest”. However, Idaho Statute does address how a prosecutor should proceed given a bonified conflict of interest. Idaho State Statute 74-208(5) states:
“…for any other reason a county prosecuting attorney is deemed disqualified from proceeding to enforce this act, the prosecuting attorney or board of county commissioners shall seek to have a special prosecutor appointed for that purpose as provided in section 31-2603, Idaho Code.”
IC 32-2603 requires the prosecutor to petition a district court judge to assign a special prosecutor. This is understandable since any conflict of Interest that would disqualify the prosecutor from prosecuting the violation would also disqualify him from selecting his replacement. Therefore, Prosecutor Coleman also violated state statute by bypassing the district court and directly selecting the special prosecutor.
Imagine the precedent the Nez Perce County and Latah County prosecutors are setting by agreeing to prosecute each other’s controversial Open Meeting violations when doing so transfers those prosecutions to another county where the prosecutor is not subject the will of the voters! This illegal inter-county transfer of the Nez Perce County Prosecutor’s primary duty of enforcing Idaho Open Meeting Law is exactly what Attorney General Lawrence Wasden ignored.
On February 18th, 2021 a complaint was emailed to Idaho Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane by Idaho Representative Mike Kingsley on behalf of Joseph Gish and Wilson Boots. No response to this email was received. On February 24th, 2021 Representative Kingsley hand delivered Mr. Gish’s and Mr. Boots’ complaint directly to the Idaho Office of Attorney General.
On March 1, 2021 the Gish/Boots complaint was followed up with a letter from Lewiston City Councilor John Bradbury. Councilor Bradbury, a retired Idaho District Judge, wrote the following in his letter to AG Wasden:
“As an Idaho citizen and as a member of the Lewiston City Council I am writing to endorse the request of Joe Gish and Wilson Boots to determine the legal propriety of referring Open Meetings Law (Act) complaints to the Latah County Prosecuting Attorney. No genuine conflict of interest is apparent. What is apparent is an effort to avoid the political heat of forcing the city to obey the law. I doubt there is another Idaho city that has exhibited such repeated disdain for compliance with the open meeting standards.”
The complaint did not request legal action, only to render an opinion on the actions of the Nez Perce County Prosecutor and a recommendation on how Open Meeting violations by the City of Lewiston should be handled in the future. Attorney General Wasden failed to investigate the complaint, and failed to even respond to Rep. Kingsley, Mr. Gish, Mr. Boots, or Councilor Bradbury. With very little effort on his part, AG Wasden could have reinforced the importance of Idaho Open Meeting Law, made clear County Prosecutors shall enforce Open Meeting Law within their jurisdictions, and helped the citizens of Lewiston who were being shut out of public City Council meetings.
I am urging the Republican voters of Idaho NOT to vote for incumbent Lawrence G. Wasden for Idaho Attorney General on May 17th, 2022. AG Wasden does not support Idaho’s Transparent and Ethical Government laws. Let’s make Wasden a “Has Been”!
Tags: Joseph Gish, Lawrence Wasden, Lewiston City Council, Mike Kingsley, Open Meeting Law