Put yourself in the position of a State lawyer who, despite a rather paltry salary, works hard every day to deliver for the State because he or she is committed to public service. You often come up against opposing attorneys who make several times your salary, but you take compensation in the results you achieve for the people of Idaho. When an uninformed bully, seeking political gain, spouts off that you and your colleagues are doing a lousy job and that he’s going to clean house if he becomes your boss, what can you do? You dare not step forward to say he’s wrong, which you know to be the case, because you will lose the job you get so much satisfaction from. You either lump it or leave for a better-paying job, taking your institutional memory with you.
Attorney General candidate Raul Labrador apparently thinks he can gain votes by bad-mouthing the dedicated lawyers in the Attorney General’s office. On October 13, he was quoted as saying the office “needs to have better lawyers” and he later said, “I want to raise the level of lawyering in the office.” In the AG debate on October 3, he said he would fire any lawyer that did not get with his program. Mr. Labrador obviously does not have any idea about the competence of the Deputy Attorneys General (DAGs) and is not well positioned to judge them.
Since the DAGs dare not defend themselves, I would like to speak in their defense. During my 12 years as a member of the Idaho Supreme Court, I witnessed how DAGS handled themselves in hundreds of cases. They were every bit as good as lawyers making many times their salary. I often saw them outshine high-priced lawyers from large out-of-state law firms. They don’t deserve Labrador’s uninformed, belittling claims.
A recent instance illustrates my point. A veteran reporter, who observed the Idaho Supreme Court arguments for and against Idaho’s abortion laws on October 6, said the DAG who argued to uphold the laws “did her job admirably. She made cogent arguments.” On the other hand, a supposed out-of-state legal expert hired by Labrador’s friends in the Legislature made an embarrassing presentation. The “expert” charged $375 per hour, compared with the average DAG pay of just over $48 per hour.
Many DAGs serve for a time in the office and then go on to better-paying jobs with prestigious law firms. Others find such satisfaction in making a difference for Idahoans that they make it a career. I know of one DAG who became a nationally known water law expert. Another DAG was so highly regarded by colleagues that she now serves on the Idaho Supreme Court. The DAGs are high quality lawyers. Lawrence Wasden assembled a truly remarkable staff of competent lawyers. Labrador would have a hard time matching their experience and is not qualified to judge their competence.
The candidate who is belittling the DAGs has been out of law school for 27 years and is still not rated by Martindale-Hubble (MH), the preeminent lawyer rating service. That is not a good sign. By contrast, Labrador’s opponent has an “AV” rating, MH’s highest rating, signifying a high level of competence and integrity. Labrador has primarily practiced federal immigration law. It would be difficult with that narrow-scope of legal practice to evaluate DAGs, who handle a wide range of state law issues.
It is clear that Labrador is not familiar with Idaho law relating to the Attorney General. He has repeatedly claimed the Legislature should have its own attorneys. Had he bothered to read the law he would have discovered that the Legislature has had the authority to hire its own lawyers since 1995. The Legislature frequently does just that, mostly to defend unconstitutional laws it passes. Before deciding to run for AG in 1981, I checked out the law to find out the duties required for the job. Who wouldn’t?
The law requires the AG to give legal opinions to legislators and other government officials at their request. Labrador has pledged to “stand up to the Governor” and be the “true partner” of extremist legislators. The law does not contemplate the AG choosing sides among the other officials in State government. That is a recipe for trouble.
Mr. Labrador is entitled to make whatever arguments he wishes regarding his qualifications or plans for the AG’s office, but it is out of bounds to make uninformed, hurtful criticism of the dedicated DAGs serving in that office. They are much better than that and he should be, also.