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Legal fees in Ybarra lawsuit approach $220,000

Legal fees in Ybarra lawsuit approach $220,000

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Superintendent Ybarra visit

State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra inspects a student's desk as she visits schools during her listening tour in November 2018 at Rock Creek Elementary School in Twin Falls.

BOISE — A Boise attorney will receive nearly $77,000 for filing an unsuccessful lawsuit on behalf of state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

That means the taxpayer cost for the case will come in at nearly $220,000.

Ybarra sued the Legislature and the State Board of Education in April, saying lawmakers had usurped her constitutional authority by transferring 18 employees and $2.7 million from Ybarra’s State Department of Education to the State Board.

When Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he could not represent Ybarra in the lawsuit, she hired David Leroy, a former attorney general and lieutenant governor.

Idaho Education News obtained copies of Leroy’s invoices through a public records request. From May 1 through June 29, Leroy submitted $76,966.67 in bills.

Under his contract with Ybarra, Leroy could have received up to $200,000 in taxpayer money.

The Legislature’s legal team — attorneys from Holland and Hart, a Boise law firm — has received nearly $142,000, also from taxpayers.

Wasden’s office represented the State Board.

The highly public — and publicly funded — legal showdown settled a constitutional dispute and a power struggle that began in the waning days of the 2020 session. Over Ybarra’s objections, lawmakers shifted the positions and the funding from SDE to the State Board, saying they wanted to consolidate K-12 and higher education data management under the State Board’s roof.

Gov. Brad Little signed the transfer into law, effective July 1.

The state Supreme Court moved quickly to hear the lawsuit — a case centered on questions of education policymaking authority, framed in Idaho’s territorial and state constitutions. On June 22, a unanimous court ruled that the State Board is Idaho’s education policymaking body.

With that ruling, the staff transfer went into effect last week.

The transition occurred without incident, according to spokespersons for the State Board and Ybarra. And the 18 staffers — who work in IT and data management — stayed in the same office space. They continue to work in the basement of the Len B. Jordan office building, which houses the SDE and the State Board.

During the lawsuit, Leroy said the transfer would “destroy” the SDE, by limiting access to data the department needs on a daily basis. This week, Ybarra downplayed this concern.

“The superintendent expects that she and the SDE will have full access to the data as the Supreme Court made clear in its ruling,” spokeswoman Kris Rodine said.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

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