Jim Jones: Idaho’s Senators turn a blind eye to the rule of law
COMMENTARY

Jim Jones: Idaho’s Senators turn a blind eye to the rule of law

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I have known both Mike Crapo and Jim Risch for about four decades. Both are intelligent men. Both are schooled in the rule of law. Mike Crapo had a strong moral compass when he entered service in the U.S. Senate. Jim Risch knows the difference between right and wrong. Both have turned a blind eye to the sacred rule of law that has so long set this great country apart from all others.

The rule of law is essential to the American experiment. Our country became an economic powerhouse and moral beacon to the world because people believed they could trust our justice system to be fair and impartial. Our public officials have a solemn responsibility to conduct themselves in such a manner as to justify and perpetuate that belief. Public confidence in American justice is essential to the continued existence of our system.

Both Risch and Crapo struck a powerful blow against the rule of law by refusing to permit a meaningful impeachment trial. A trial in our system is designed to get to the truth of the matter by allowing the jury to hear witnesses testify under oath and to examine documentary evidence. Both of our Senators have refused to permit the introduction of that evidence. What kind of a trial is that?

Had an opposing attorney refused to furnish documents and testimony when our Senators were practicing law in Idaho, they would likely have raised the roof. Now they say it is not necessary to learn what key witnesses have to say—John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Robert Blair and Michael Duffey. Except for Bolton, the witnesses are Trump insiders and should be expected to parrot the party line, unless there is something to fear from having them sworn to tell the truth under oath.

Both of our Senators took a solemn oath to “do impartial justice” in the impeachment. Short circuiting the trial by excluding critical evidence is a breach of that oath. The public is not likely to have confidence in a proceeding that looks to be intent on hiding the truth, rather than discovering it.

All Idaho lawyers have a professional responsibility to “further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system.” Our Senators appear to be disregarding this responsibility, also.

Embedded in the requirement to do impartial justice is the obligation of Senate jurors to comport themselves impartially. If a juror in a court proceeding were to cavort with a defendant, it would certainly raise eyebrows and perhaps the blood pressure of the presiding judge. Jurors in an impeachment should not be frolicking with the defendant in the course of the proceedings.

However, Jim Risch boasted in a January 19 report that he had flown on Air Force One with the President to attend both the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia on December 14 and the LSU-Clemson game in New Orleans on January 13. Risch observed that “you can relate to this guy.” That may be so, but it is probably not the best way to demonstrate impartiality.

All told, the impeachment trial in the Senate has been an unseemly spectacle. The majority party has given the impression that it cares little about getting to the truth of the matter.

Even though this was not a court proceeding, it is the highest-profile demonstration of American justice that people in this country and around the world will experience in their lifetimes. It will leave an ugly taste in their mouths for the way justice is handled in this country. Our Senators, having turned a blind eye to the rule of law, must share responsibility for that.

Jones is an Eden native and former Idaho Attorney General and former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice. His previous opinion work can be found at JJCommontater.com.

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A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

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The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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