Attorney General Labrador savors a rare court victory

Idaho’s Attorney General has experienced a great deal of disappointment in court proceedings since taking office in January, but he rejoiced at a rare victory on September 29. Three Trump-appointed federal appeals court judges ruled in favor of Labrador’s plea to allow Idaho’s total abortion ban to apply in the hospital emergency room setting.

The appeals court overruled a decision by an Idaho federal judge which allowed women with health-threatening pregnancy complications to receive emergency maternal care in spite of the ban. Now, emergency room doctors will only be able to terminate a troubled pregnancy when required to “avert” the death of the mother, or when “a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” The doctors may need to have a lawyer on hand in the ER to make those difficult decisions.

The current law provides little comfort to women who experience dangerous pregnancy complications and the doctors who wish to treat them. Several women and doctors recently filed suit against the State, seeking clarity as to when medical care can be provided without violating the total ban. One of the plaintiffs noted, “It isn’t safe to be pregnant in Idaho.” Labrador will be defending the lawsuit.

After basking in the glow of the abortion victory, the Attorney General’s streak of disappointments continued with news that the State will have to pay attorney fees for the improper titles he wrote for the Open Primaries Initiative. On October 2, the Supreme Court awarded just under $80,000 in attorney fees to the plaintiffs who challenged his titles. Earlier, when the case was decided, the Court announced the fee award because Labrador had “acted without a reasonable basis in the law” in writing the titles. Among other things, his “short and general ballot titles contained a blatant misstatement concerning what the Initiative would require.” If he had just followed the law and written accurate titles, the State could have saved $79,968.

Just days before the abortion win, Labrador was sued by a former Deputy Attorney General (DAG) who claimed she was fired for refusing to go along with unethical conduct by her superiors. After the DAG wrote that Labrador’s office was engaging in “an untenable conflict of interest’’ with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW), she was fired in what appears to be a classic case of retaliation. Of interest in this regard is a subsequent court ruling that disqualified Labrador from pursuing action against IDHW because of that very conflict. The AG was required to engage independent counsel if he wanted to pursue that matter. It is likely that the fired DAG will be able to recover substantial damages in her lawsuit and that the action against IDHW will turn out to be a waste of everyone’s time.

Labrador has also had his hand slapped by another judge for engaging in another conflict of interest with another client agency, the State Board of Education. This time Labrador filed suit against the Board, his own client agency, claiming an Open Meeting Law violation with respect to the University of Idaho’s proposed acquisition of the University of Phoenix. While one might have concerns about that deal, it does not excuse an attorney’s lawsuit against his own client. The district court certainly understood the ethical rules that lawyers are required to follow and ordered that Labrador and his top gun, Theo Wold, were disqualified from personal involvement in the suit.

Labrador, who positioned himself as the champion of the Open Meeting Law, ended up with a considerable amount of egg on his face when he violated the same law several weeks after filing the suit against the Board. That might have been a sign to drop the Board suit, but it only caused Labrador to double down with a new attorney who is not subject to the disqualification order. Now the Board is accusing Labrador of filing “abusive” subpoenas. It is likely that this pointless drama will also end up being a huge waste of state resources. Looking at the bright side, there is an election in 2026.

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