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Idaho AG Raúl Labrador replaced as attorney for Idaho Transportation Department in HQ lawsuit

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Idaho AG Raúl Labrador replaced as attorney for Idaho Transportation Department in HQ lawsuit

May 29, 2024 | 7:10 am ET
By Clark Corbin
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Idaho AG Raúl Labrador replaced as attorney for Idaho Transportation Department in HQ lawsuit
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In this file photo, Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador gives a speech at the Idaho GOP election night watch party at the Grove Hotel in Boise, Idaho, on Nov. 8, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office was replaced last week as the attorney of record representing the Idaho Transportation Department and the Department of Administration in a lawsuit related to the blocked sale of ITD’s former Boise headquarters.

On May 22, the Idaho Transportation Department and Idaho Department of Administration filed a written notice of a substitution of counsel with the Idaho Supreme Court in the case of Hawkins Co., LLC vs State of Idaho. 

The filing states that the Idaho Office of the Attorney General withdrew from the case. Moving forward, Joan E. Callahan of the Boise-based firm Naylor and Hales will represent ITD and the Department of Administration.

The substitution of counsel occurred days after a spokesperson for Gov. Brad Little’s office said Labrador’s office filed the state’s response to the ITD headquarters lawsuit without consulting with or receiving the approval of the state’s parties in the lawsuit. 

The governor has learned that a brief and answer were filed on behalf of the Board of Examiners in the lawsuit before the Idaho Supreme Court. The filings were neither presented to nor approved by the board prior to filing,” LIttle’s press secretary Madison Hardy said in a written statement last week. 

The substitution of counsel is notable because under Idaho law, one of the attorney general’s specific duties is to represent the state in court. 

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“… it is the duty of the attorney general: to perform all legal services for the state and to represent the state and all departments, agencies, offices, officers, boards, commissions institutions and other state entities in all courts and and before all administrative tribunals or bodies of any nature,” Idaho law states.

The same day Callahan was named as the new attorney of record on the case, she also filed a response to the lawsuit and utilized a different legal strategy than the one outlined by  Labrador’s office. In the new May 22 response, Callahan wrote that the lawsuit “raises important constitutional questions that could impact the bills that were passed relating to respondents’ fiscal year 2025 appropriations and budgets…” 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little worried vetoing ITD budget would jeopardize money for bridge repairs

Callahan also wrote that the “Department of Administration and ITD need clarity and direction regarding their respective authority related to the ITD campus and the planned sale thereof.”

Boise Dev first reported that Labrador’s office filed a response to the lawsuit without the approval of some of the state’s top officials. 

In response to the statement from Little’s office, Labrador’s office issued its own written statement, saying Little should have acted sooner to take care of the situation. 

“The Idaho Supreme Court gave our office two weeks to file the brief on behalf of all state parties named in the Hawkins suit,” the Idaho Attorney General’s Office said in a written statement emailed to the Idaho Capital Sun on May 23. “The governor was aware of this deadline from day one. He was informed of our legal strategy at least one week before the brief was due. As the chair of the Board of Examiners, the governor had ample opportunity to call a special meeting but failed to do so. Similarly, he could have vetoed the legislation that triggered the lawsuit. It’s curious that his office is trying to blame the Office of the Attorney General for the governor’s failure to act promptly on his desired policy outcomes.”   

Lawsuit related to Idaho Legislature blocking sale of ITD’s former Boise headquarters

The lawsuit came about after the Idaho Legislature passed budget language blocking the $51 million sale of the ITD campus at the end of the 2024 legislative session. 

In January 2022, the ITD’s former Boise headquarters located at 3311 State Street in Boise flooded after a pipe broke and the building was contaminated with asbestos, the Idaho Press previously reported. ITD’s board then voted to declare the 45-acre campus as surplus property and put it up for sale, court documents indicate. 

Idaho Transportation Department headquarters in Boise
This file photo of the Idaho Transportation Department’s old State Street headquarters in Boise was taken March 21, 2021, before the building flooded. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

In November 2023, state officials told the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that the state sold the State Street campus to a joint venture of Hawkins Companies, Pacific West Communities and FJ Management for $51 million, the Sun reported at the time.  

But this March the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee passed budget language blocking the sale after some legislators said keeping the State Street campus and spending $32 million to renovate it was a more financially responsible decision than selling it and spending $56.3 million to relocate ITD and furnish a new headquarters for the department. 

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, or JFAC, is a powerful legislative committee that sets each element of the state budget. 

After JFAC and the Idaho Legislature blocked the sale, the would-be buyers – Hawkins Companies, Pacific West Communities and FJ Management – filed the lawsuit against the state on April 25, the Sun previously reported

Last week, the Idaho Supreme Court issued a notice that it intends to hear oral arguments in the case in Boise on Aug. 19, Aug. 23 or Aug. 26.