- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Legislation that would block an Idaho Supreme Court decision on when attorney fees are imposed cleared the House floor on Monday.

In September, the state’s highest court announced a split decision for a new standard on settling attorney fees in civil cases: Judges should award attorney fees “when justice so requires.” This decision has caused outrage among the state’s legal community because they fear it would lead to a so-called loser pay system, meaning the losing side would have to pay for other side’s attorney’s fees.

The split 3-2 court decision is scheduled to go into effect March 1, leaving lawmakers enough time to change the state law during this year’s legislative session.

Rep. Lynn Luker, a Republican from Boise, is backing legislation that would allow attorney fees to be awarded only if the courts deem the case frivolous, without legal basis, or unreasonable - which had been the previous standard for nearly 30 years until the court’s surprise decision.

In 1976, the Idaho Legislature passed a law saying that “In any civil action, the judge may award reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party or parties.”

This led to lawyers seeking out specific judges based on the history of their approach to attorney fee awards. Then in 1979, the court adopted the Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure, which said that courts may award attorney fees when a case was “brought, pursued or defended frivolously, unreasonably or without foundation.”

“It’s a new frontier if we do not act now,” Luker said. “We are much more comfortable continuing the status quo.”

The bill passed overwhelming in the House on Monday with just eight lawmakers opposing.

“I don’t know what the answer is here,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, of Star. “I’ve stewed about this. I’m just not confident this is the answer.”

Moyle said he would have preferred to see the bill’s language

HB97 now goes to the Senate for approval before it can go to the governor’s desk for his signature

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