Labrador legal-representation contract allows ADF to oppose public records responses

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman


When voters elect an attorney general, they are hiring a lawyer to represent the collective legal interests of the state. Turning over that duty of legal representation to an unelected political advocacy group is inherently problematic.

“It is a very bad practice to allow an advocacy group to represent the state. They will represent their true client, the advocacy group, not the state,” James Tierney, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and the former attorney general of Maine, told Chris Geidner, a longtime legal journalist who writes the Law Dork substack.

That’s particularly true of the group that is now representing — you. Didn’t know you had a new legal team? Well, you should meet them.

As Geidner first reported, last month the Alliance Defending Freedom quietly entered an agreement with Attorney General Raúl Labrador to represent the state in appealing the federal court decision that prevented implementation of Idaho’s total abortion ban in cases where it conflicts with the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

That law requires hospitals to provide emergency treatment to save any patient that shows up at their doors — including women who need to end a pregnancy to save their life or health, whereas Idaho law allows abortion only to save a woman’s life.

The group Labrador brought into this case has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist hate group. It has been at the forefront of efforts to restrict women’s rights and to criminalize the lives of LGBTQ people in Idaho and around the country as part of a broader Christian nationalist agenda.

All of this is predictable, and was indeed predicted, when Labrador was running for office. Labrador is basically a far-right career politician, and he is using his office to service the far right. His experience as a litigator was nowhere near sufficient to be the state’s lawyer.

So it seems he’s beyond his depth in this case, and it might make sense to seek outside help. But hiring outsiders comes at a cost, even if that cost isn’t taxpayer funds.

For example, even though Idaho is the client in this relationship — usually a lawyer’s job is first and foremost to advance their client’s interests — the contract Labrador signed places the ADF’s political propaganda campaign on equal or superior footing to the interests of Idaho citizens.

“Client therefore agrees to cooperate as much as possible, upon the request of ADF, in the publicizing of non-privileged and non-confidential information relating to the Representation,” the agreement states. “Client agrees to allow ADF to use non-confidential information in materials intended to communicate with supporters of ADF and in furtherance of the mission of ADF.”

At the same time, the agreement signs away Idahoans’ right to know about their own government and their own legal representation.

Idaho’s Public Records Act declares that anyone in Idaho can inspect state records, and they’re exempt from disclosure only if they meet specified conditions. And since Idaho is the client in this lawsuit, it seems Idahoans ought to have access to a great many details of their own representation.

Instead, a national advocacy group acting as your pro-bono legal team reserves the right to oppose you obtaining information about your own representation.

“Client agrees not to disclose our communications to third parties, whether orally or by forwarding to or copying third parties on communications, without first obtaining approval from ADF,” the agreement states. “Client will notify ADF in advance of responding to any public records request for communications relating to the Matter, and Client will do so sufficiently in advance of the response deadline to enable ADF to oppose or otherwise respond to such request.”

You and I might have very different views on abortion in general and on this lawsuit in particular.

I think we should not be pursuing this lawsuit. The bill passed by Idaho lawmakers was ambiguous. It made doctors afraid they could be liable for providing treatment necessary to save women from severe bodily harm, put pregnant Idahoans at higher risk and helped drive the flight of OB/GYNs from Idaho.

The federal ruling is narrow and simply provides assurance to doctors they can do what is necessary to save women in emergency situations. It does not protect what most people think of as abortions — though I think that’s a right that should be protected.

But you don’t have to agree with me about that to smell something rotten here. No matter which side of this lawsuit you support, Labrador sold out your interests.

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

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