Idaho’s new Attorney General, Raul Labrador, pledged during the election campaign that he was going to represent the people, not the bureaucracy. Voters seemed to assume this was just campaign rhetoric and that he would settle down after the election to do the work required of the Attorney General–to faithfully advise and represent the state government. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Labrador has shown a decided preference for representing his friends and supporters, regardless of the interests of the state. He has been helping “his people,” rather than “the people.”
The only reason Idaho has an AG is to serve the people as the lawyer for their government, which is sometimes called the bureaucracy. Under our system of representative government, the “people” means the government of Idaho and its officers and agencies. When Idaho’s Constitution was being fashioned in 1889, one delegate said that the Attorney General “has to be the adviser of all state officers.”
Section 67-1401 of the Idaho Code sets out the duties the AG swears, upon oath, to carry out for the state. Chief among them is “to perform all legal services for the state” and its officials and agencies. All of them are his clients and he is obligated under the Idaho State Bar’s ethical rules–the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct (IRCP)–to act in their best legal interests. The rules require all lawyers, including the AG, to act with undivided loyalty toward their clients and to take no action adverse to client interests without first obtaining written client consent. Any lawyer violating these duties, including the AG, can expect disciplinary action by the Bar, up to and including disbarment.
One of Labrador’s first acts was to dismiss a trespassing charge against one of his prominent supporters. He was supposed to be the people’s prosecutor in that case but he acted in favor of his supporter who was charged with violating the people’s law.
More recently, Labrador has taken action against some of his own clients in apparent violation of his oath and Bar ethical rules. Labrador served long lists of demands for records upon the Director of the Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) and two other employees, without any prior notice or legal justification. The action appeared to have been instigated by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and egged on by a publication called the Idaho Tribune. That publication headlined a March 22 article, “ KINDERGATE: Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Caught Misappropriating $30M Tax Dollars — Insiders Say Scandal May Lead Back To Governor’s Office,” in an apparent attempt to besmirch the Governor. One might wonder if this is a prelude to another Labrador shot at the Governor’s office.
The IDHW director filed an action in district Court to nip Labrador’s aggressive action in the bud—a strange thing to be forced to do because of the misconduct of his own official lawyer. The Director then revealed that Labrador had been hounding him for records about a child protection case involving another Labrador pal, Diego Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez, a sidekick of Ammon Bundy, is the grandfather of the child, whose parents have indicated an intent to sue the state for damages. The Director rightly refused to hand over the records because of Labrador’s clear-cut conflict of interest.
It is unknown why Labrador would repeatedly risk disciplinary action for taking the side of his friends and supporters over the interests of his clients, but it is extremely troubling. There may be other concerning situations that have not yet come to public attention. It is hoped that at some point Labrador will acquaint himself with the laws and rules that govern his new position and decide to scrupulously observe them.