- Associated Press - Monday, February 9, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho has spent $10 million on private legal counsel each year since 2011 because of limited resources inside the state’s own legal office, independent evaluators said Monday.

Most outside legal work could be provided by Idaho’s attorney general’s office, according to a report from the Office of Performance Evaluations. However, low funding has hindered how much state attorneys can take on.

Idaho has also paid $1.7 million since 2005 in opposing attorney fees. That includes the roughly $400,000 Idaho recently paid to the attorneys who successfully overturned the state’s gay marriage ban in October.

Evaluators are recommending expanding the attorney general’s office, but they did not pinpoint a specific number as to how many staffers should be employed or how much more money the office should receive.

On Tuesday morning, the attorney general’s office will present its budget recommendations in front of lawmakers for fiscal year 2016.

“As the AG, I am often put in hard positions,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told lawmakers Monday while discussing the report. “Sometimes we’ll render an opinion for the legislature, and the legislature will take action against that opinion. We have to defend that action even though we opined against it. That’s just part of the ballgame I find myself in.”

According to the evaluators’ report, more than 75 percent of the $10 million per year can be attributed to three state agencies -the departments of Health and Welfare, Transportation and Administration.

The Department of Health and Welfare, the agency with the highest legal tab, said child-support cases are the number one reason its costs are so high,

To help lower the outside attorney costs, the report recommends recovering matching federal funds for child-welfare expenses that the state is currently not pursuing.

The report went before the bipartisan Joint Legislative Oversight Committee.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said that every state agency is currently facing a staffing and resource shortage. However, she warned that the legislature’s focus this year is solely on replenishing public school resources.

“These other agencies will be lagging for some time,” Bell said. “Secondly, the next question is, how big do you want your government? How much expertise and how much is the stable to cover the litigation that’s out there all the time? I don’t think you’re going to have ever an adequate agency.”

Bell added that even with more money, she didn’t see a future in which state officials wouldn’t see a need to hire specialized attorneys in some legal cases.


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