Labrador clamps down on public records access at AG’s office, asks requests be mailed

From the Idaho Press

Before Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador took office at the start of this year, citizens could file public records requests via an online form. That capability appears to have disappeared from the attorney general’s office’s website.

The office wrote on its website that public records requests are accepted by mail. But for Idahoans who want access to those records, requests can apparently be made over email as well. The Idaho Press submitted an emailed request last week and was given a 10-day extension letter on Monday afternoon.

Public Information Specialist Emily Kleinworth said the attorney general’s office’s policy on public records is to follow state law. When asked if the AG’s office accepted requests that aren’t mailed, Kleinworth said this was the office’s official response:

“Are you serious? We’re literally responding right now to public record requests you submitted by email.”

Betsy Russell, the president and co-founder of Idahoans for Openness in Government and president of the Idaho Press Club, said requiring requests to be submitted only by mail would be outdated.

In 2006, Russell said, the Legislature passed a bill requiring agencies to accept public records requests by email.

“The point of the public records law is that the records belong to the public,” Russell said. “The rules are designed to make them easy to access.”

Labrador’s office did not reply to a question asking if the website would be updated to include that emailed records requests would be accepted as well.

Former Idaho attorney general Jim Jones said that while he was in office from 1983-1991, every letter he wrote was in a folder that people could access without having to make a records request. 

“But if they made one, they got it,” Jones said. 

Jones said Lawrence Wasden, who was Idaho’s attorney general from 2003-2022 and was defeated by Labrador in the 2022 primary election, had been a “real champion in open government,” but that the Legislature had, over the years, added more and more exemptions to the list of public records that can be requested. 

“Government runs best when it runs in the open and people know what it’s doing, and have the ability to get quick access to information,” Jones said. “But the problem is that you have a branch of the Republican Party that doesn’t like that too much.”

Want to submit a records request?

Public records requests can be submitted via email to, emily.kleinworth@ag.idaho.gov, or by mail to:

Office of the Attorney General

State of Idaho

700 W Jefferson St., Suite 210

P.O. Box 83720

Boise, ID 83720

From the Idaho Press

News outlets join to oppose gag order in Idaho stabbing case

From the Associated Press

By Rebecca Boone

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Twenty regional and national news organizations have formed a coalition to ask a judge to narrow a gag order in the case against a man accused of killing four University of Idaho students.

The coalition, which includes The Associated Press, contends that press access to law enforcement officers and other officials involved in high-stakes criminal cases provides the public with important context and a better understanding of how the criminal justice system operates.

Bryan Kohberger, 28, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and burglary in connection with the stabbing deaths in Moscow, Idaho. Prosecutors have yet to reveal if they intend to seek the death penalty.

“This order is unnecessarily sweeping and broad and severely impedes the public’s understanding of a significant criminal investigation that profoundly impacted the community,” said Josh Hoffner, national news director for The Associated Press.

The bodies of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin were found on Nov. 13, 2022, at a rental home across the street from the University of Idaho campus. The slayings shocked the rural Idaho community and neighboring Pullman, Washington, where Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at Washington State University.

The case garnered widespread publicity, and earlier this month Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued a gag order barring attorneys, law enforcement agencies and others associated with the case from talking about it. On Thursday she broadened that gag order, also prohibiting any attorneys representing survivors, witnesses or the victims’ family members from talking or writing about the case.

“There is a balance between protecting the right to a fair trial for all parties involved and the right to free expression as afforded under both the United States and Idaho Constitution,” Marshall wrote in the amended order. “To preserve the right to a fair trial some curtailment of the dissemination of information in this case is necessary and authorized under the law.”

Dan Shelley, the president of the Radio Television Digital News Association, said there are other ways to ensure a fair trial. The national association is a member of the coalition.

“Courts across this country are frequently able, even in the highest of high-profile cases, to find ways to balance defendants’ rights with the rights of the public to have vital information. There is no reason why this court can’t do the same,” Shelley said.

The media coalition includes several newspapers and television stations in the Pacific Northwest, including The Seattle Times, Idaho Statesman, KHQ in Spokane, Washington and KTVB in Boise, Idaho. The coalition is expected to file court documents opposing the gag order in the coming days.

The case drew worldwide attention, particularly from people who styled themselves as sleuths on social media sites. In the weeks before Kohberger’s arrest, some of those sleuths publicized their own theories about the slayings online. The theories often wrongly placed the blame on the victims’ surviving friends, relatives or others. News organizations’ interviews with investigators often worked to quash some of those rumors and counter misinformation spread online.

Such publicity often presents a conundrum for judges, who work to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Courts sometimes feel that controlling the flow of information around a criminal case — by forbidding those involved from talking about it — is an effective way to limit publicity and help protect that fair trial right.

But gag orders can infringe on the First Amendment rights of the public and of the people involved in the case. News organizations that cover the courts serve a watchdog role, keeping the public informed about how the judicial branch operates.

Conversations with the officials involved in criminal cases helps journalists understand the nuances of legal arguments and the technical steps of court proceedings so their coverage can be fair and thorough, said media coalition member and Idaho Press Club President Betsy Russell.

“We’re not lawyers for the most part, nor are our readers, and those explanations can help make sure that inaccurate information isn’t spread about what’s happening in our halls of justice,” Russell said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has found that gag orders do infringe on the public’s right to know what is going on in the nation’s courtrooms, but the high court has also said that some gag orders are permissible, as long as they are the least restrictive way to ensure a fair trial and are narrowly tailored to achieve their aim.

The first gag order issued by Marshall on Jan. 3 did not include any stated reason for why she felt the gag order was needed. It prohibited the parties in the criminal case, “including investigators, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and agents of the prosecuting attorney or defense attorney,” from making any statements outside of court other than directly quoting actual court records filed in the case.

Notably, both the prosecution and defense attorneys had filed a document roughly two hours earlier saying they agreed to the creation of a gag order and wanted it to include investigators and law enforcement.

“This Court has both a constitutional duty and the inherent authority to ‘minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity’ and ‘to ensure the efficacious administration of justice,’” Kohberger’s defense attorney Anne Taylor and Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson wrote.

In Thursday’s amended gag order, Marshall expanded the prohibition, adding any attorneys representing witnesses, victims or victims’ family members to the list.

The amended order also prohibits any statement that is not a direct quote from court documents, and specifically calls out a number of specifically prohibited types of statements, including “any opinion as to the merits of the case or the claims or defense of a party,” and any statements about “evidence regarding the occurrences or transactions involved in the case.”

Kohberger is scheduled for a five-day preliminary hearing starting June 26.

From the Associated Press

House rule change aimed at ‘more transparent process’

From Idaho Reports/Idaho Public Television

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports 

In its first meeting Tuesday, the House State Affairs Committee introduced a bill to implement a rule change to prevent legislators from repeatedly trying to call a piece of legislation back to the floor.  

The bill comes after former Rep. Ron Nate and allies spent much of the 2022 legislative session trying to call back a personal bill to eliminate the grocery tax to the House floor using the rule, bypassing a committee hearing.  

Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, introduced the amended change to House Rule 6. There would also be smaller changes to Rules 8, 10 and 17 to comply with the potential changes to Rule 6, should the bill pass. 

Raybould, who defeated Nate in the May primary, explained the bill would also put a cap on how many personal bills a legislator may introduce. The committee amended the number from two to three personal bills per legislative session. A personal bill is introduced by an individual legislator, rather than a group of legislators in a committee. 

Raybould said she believed it was a disservice to the public to bypass full legislative hearings. 

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, took issue with the legislation because committee chairmen have the authority to not hear a bill in committee. 

“What you really get are someone that represents a district, that may not be Eastern Idaho, that may not be Northern Idaho, that may be a chairman from Downtown Boise and so they are making decisions that they don’t like your idea or your citizens’ idea and refuse to hear them,” Scott said.  

 Scott supported Nate’s efforts last year to repeatedly bring back his personal bill. 

“This bill is drafted intentionally to be narrow to focus on this specific issue,” Raybould said in response. “I would anticipate that if there was interest in pursuing the hearing of all committee bills that it should go through the rule change process as well.”  

Chairman Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, co-sponsored the legislation. During discussion, he referenced last session’s repeated attempts to bring back a grocery tax personal bill from the House Ways and Means Committee. 

“You and I agree on the charade that happened last session and it was wrong and it was misleading to the public,” Crane said during discussion. “Government is confusing for individuals already and it’s my desire to make this be more a transparent and easy to understand process.” 

The bill will now go before the full House of Representatives before a vote.  

From Idaho Reports/Idaho Public Television

Police body-cam videos, privacy and questions

From the Idaho Press

By CAROLYN KOMATSOULIS

Four hours before the city of Boise announced it was putting Office of Police Accountability Director Jesus Jara on administrative leave, Jara sent a meeting invite to Interim Police Chief Ron Winegar. He accepted, according to emails obtained via a public records request.

But that meeting never happened.

Before 4 p.m. that day, Jara was placed on leave. The following Monday, Winegar declined the outstanding meeting invite.

Four days later, the city council voted 5-1 to remove Jara from his position.

It’s unclear exactly what Jara’s meeting with Winegar would have been about. But 10 days earlier, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and another staff member told Jara to meet with Winegar and the city’s legal team to address a policy about OPA’s practice of reviewing police body camera footage.

“In early November, my office learned that Jesus Jara was conducting unauthorized surveillance of community members. I believe he was effectively exploiting his access for audits to the system by randomly viewing over 8,000 videos, almost exclusively without cause,” McLean said in a release after Jara was removed from office. “This is a serious violation of the privacy of our residents and a worrisome erosion of the trust we intended to build with the OPA model of oversight.”

For many, this move made little sense. Boiseans and others discussed what happened with a bit of confusion. Shouldn’t the director of police accountability be watching what the police do? Wasn’t that his job?

The Idaho Press spoke to two people with experience or expertise in criminal justice and law enforcement about privacy and body cameras.

Privacy issues for victims and officers

In 2014, while Gary Raney was Ada County Sheriff, his office adopted body-worn cameras. By the end of the rollout, 70 deputies were to have body cameras. As of December 2022, there are 165 body cameras assigned to deputies, according to Ada County Sheriff’s Spokesman Patrick Orr.

“The key to managing body-worn cameras is you want to make sure that they are on at the right time and off at the right time,” Raney said. “That can be a little tricky.”

As a general rule, the body camera should be on when police are having an enforcement contact, Raney said.

“But then the problem started coming up. What if I left my body-worn camera on when I went to the restroom?” Raney said. “Or more officially, do we record domestic violence victims? Do we record rape victims? Do we record children and key witnesses?”

By the time of rollout, the sheriff’s office decided not to record interactions with crime victims, cooperative witnesses, confidential informants and undercover officers, among others.

“There are privacy issues that you should take care of. … I think we have to respect people’s privacy, but at the same time, capture the real evidence,” Raney said. “It’s a delicate balance.”

At the time, some of the deputies and officers and troopers were concerned about being “spied on” and that they might get in trouble. But often the body-worn camera vindicates a deputy from a complaint, Raney said.

The most important privacy issue is sensitive victims like rape victims. In the most “horrid” moment of someone’s life, Raney said it’s disrespectful and retraumatizing for the rape victim to then know the footage is out there.

But another level of privacy is officer privacy. Raney brought up an example of what would happen if an officer forgot their camera was on while they changed their clothes. Most policies don’t allow officers to edit footage, he said. But often a supervisor or higher can go in and edit footage, though there has to be documentation of what was on the footage. All are appropriate policies, Raney said.

When it comes to recording, it’s hard to predict every type of victim or witness.

“Most all policies support some limited amount of officer discretion in the recording, and that is not pointed toward enforcement contacts, that’s pointed toward vulnerable victims and witnesses and respecting their privacy,” Raney said.

It can be hard to come up with a policy that encapsulates every situation a police officer ends up in, according to Boise State Professor of Criminal Justice Lisa Growette Bostaph. But there are ways to place boundaries around the discretionary decision.

When it comes to privacy, Growette Bostaph echoed Raney’s points about not retraumatizing people, especially if the videos are released to the public.

“Officers are often responding to traumatic situations of citizens. That could be a car accident, it could be an overdose,” she said. “Now it’s being shared with the world. And so that forces them to relive that trauma over and over again and it really exploits them because no one knows exactly how that body camera video is going to be used once it’s out into the public realm.”

However, there are other times when releasing the body camera footage can be required to retain their legitimacy among citizens. It can also be a form of accountability.

There can also be concerns about internal viewing of body camera footage. For example, the ACLU has objected to allowing any officers watching the footage of an officer-involved shooting before writing up a report about it. Growette Bostaph said this is likely because the goal is to find out the officer’s perception. The question is what made them shoot, not what the camera saw.

Growette Bostaph said there can be a place for randomly watching body camera footage as part of an officer’s annual evaluation. The sample could be used to review the officer’s interpersonal skills, adherence to policies, and strengths and weaknesses.

Many evaluations are structured according to department policy and sometimes union contracts, depending on the department. The review is usually tied to an annual evaluation so it doesn’t get considered a fishing investigation.

Citizen complaints, internal affairs complaints, an officer-involved shooting or annual evaluations can all be reasons to look at body camera footage.

“It’s structuring discretion. It’s just structuring supervisory discretion,” Growette Bostaph said. “It is tied to specific reasons for viewing that body cam footage. And I think that really would be considered best practice, is structuring discretion.”

Lawsuit and controversy

Jara’s firing was the latest in a series of controversies for the city of Boise and the Boise Police Department, including an ongoing investigation into an officer with white supremacist ties and the September resignation of former police chief Ryan Lee.

Jara’s attorney filed a lawsuit in district court on Dec. 12, alleging Boise interfered with the OPA’s investigation into Lee and then retaliated against Jara for recommending Lee be placed on leave, KTVB reported.

In a statement after Jara was fired, Jara’s counsel said the city council’s move was a “bold and blatant act of retaliation in violation of Idaho’s Whistleblower laws.” Jara acted in accordance with his duties and authority, the statement said, and is confident his decisions and judgment will “withstand the tests presented by forthcoming litigation.”

The Idaho Press requested any internal or external complaints against Jara via a public records request. The city said it could not find any.

From the Idaho Press

Judge strikes down ‘chilling’ defamation suit from Sawtooth Valley ranch owner, on free speech grounds

From the Idaho Mountain Express

By EMILY JONES

A Custer County judge dismissed most of a defamation lawsuit from Stanley-area ranch owner Michael Boren on Tuesday afternoon, arguing that three out of four defendants named in his suit—including two Blaine County officials—had been protected by the First Amendment when they publicly criticized his application for a private airstrip last year.

Boren’s Hell Roaring Ranch sits on a scenic easement on the west side of state Highway 75, about 15 miles south of Stanley.

The remote site includes a $1.1 million private hangar built to house the ranch owner’s two-seat American Champion plane and six-seat Eurocopter helicopter, according to a report from ICF Builder Magazine.

Boren, 60—the cofounder of billion-dollar tech company Clearwater Analytics—applied to the Custer County Planning and Zoning Commission last year to officially designate a strip of his property as a private landing area.

The P&Z approved his permit application in May 2021, despite receiving pushback from hundreds of residents and more than 600 comments in the span of a week. The Custer County Commissioners voted to uphold the P&Z’s verdict three months later, in August 2021, on the condition that the airstrip only service a limited flow of general-aviation and emergency air traffic.

Between those decision points, however, a group of concerned citizens from Blaine and Custer County submitted an appeal to the P&Z in which they claimed that air traffic at Boren’s airstrip would degrade the scenery, wildlife habitat and overall outdoor recreation experience of the SNRA.

The group also claimed in their petition that Boren had violated state and federal environmental regulations, including the Clean Water Act, when building his airstrip and associated hangar facility. Their appeal was unsuccessful.

Original lawsuit cited harm to Boren’s reputation
According to a 21-page lawsuit that Boren filed through his attorney, Tom Banducci, in May 2022, three members of the opposition group—Blaine County Commissioner Dick Fosbury, former Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael and Stanley first responder Gary Gadwa—continued to spread misinformation about the airstrip and its legality after Boren’s conditional-use permit was approved.

Banducci wrote that the defendants had promoted the “falsehood” that Boren’s airstrip was an “airport,” and made disparaging comments that incited ridicule and even death threats against Boren’s family.

Their comments to the media and general public ultimately forced Boren to seek a declaratory judgment deeming their speech “defamatory,” and therefore unprotected by the First Amendment, Banducci stated on behalf of his client.

Boren also requested a jury trial to recover damages “equal to the amounts” that he spent attempting to preserve his reputation, “as well as general damages in an amount to be proved at trial,” Banducci wrote.

“Left with no options, Boren has resolved to repair his reputation in the courts,” Banducci stated in the original complaint.

In the same filing, Boren sued a fourth defendant, Boise filmmaker Jon Conti, over a YouTube video that Conti had uploaded entitled “The Billionaire Building a Private Airport in the Sawtooths.” The filmmaker allegedly referred to Boren as an ‘a–hole’ who “lies, because that’s who he is,” and has since deleted the video.

Conti responded to the suit by filing a counterclaim against Boren. Records show that the matter between Conti and Boren is still pending in court.

The matter involving Fosbury, Michael and Gadwa came before 7th District Judge Stevan H. Thompson for resolution on Sept. 12 in response to motions to dismiss filed by Fosbury and Michael’s attorneys in July. (Gadwa signed on to both Fosbury and Michael’s motions to dismiss later in the summer.)

On Tuesday, following testimony at last month’s motion-to-dismiss hearing, Thompson agreed to dismiss all claims against Fosbury, Michael and Gadwa on the grounds that they had the constitutional right to speak out against projects that are of interest to the general public, and should be able to air their grievances without fear of retribution.

“In this case, there is the potential for a great chilling effect on constitutional rights not just for these named defendants but for all the members of the public who spoke on this issue, which was undoubtedly a matter of public concern in which they were entitled to involvement,” Thompson wrote in his decision this week.

Petitioning activity protected, defendants argue
Through their separate attorneys—Michael Elia, representing Fosbury, and Deborah Ferguson, representing Michael—Fosbury and Michael raised slightly different arguments in their motions to dismiss. Both motions were filed separately but concurrently on July 5 and joined by Gadwa later in the summer.

At both the September motion-to-dismiss hearing and in written documents, Elia argued that Fosbury had complete immunity from any defamation allegations while debating and acting in his official capacity. Fosbury’s statements were protected by law because they were made in “quasi-judicial proceedings,” and did not directly harm Boren, Elia said.

“Ultimately, [Boren] is not entitled to damages because Defendant Fosbury and members of the public-at-large disagree with his use, and prior use, of his airstrip and exercised their due process right to express that disagreement,” Elia wrote. “Plaintiff’s claims should be dismissed with prejudice.”

Ferguson argued that her client’s speech was protected by the First Amendment and that Boren’s lawsuit represented abuse of the legal system.

“There is a special name for this type of frivolous lawsuit and others like it that attempt to chill participation in the public process. They are called SLAPP [Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation] suits,” she wrote. “To be clear, the objective of SLAPP suits is not to win them, but to use litigation to intimidate an opponents’ exercise of rights of petitioning and speech.”

Gadwa, the current commander for Sawtooth Search and Rescue, testified last month from a remote fire lookout tower. He explained that he was representing himself virtually because his attorney, Keith Roark, had to withdraw due to illness.

Gadwa told the court that he never spoke in a defamatory way toward Boren.

“When [Boren] applied for the airport permit with Custer County, I was asked whether his permit for a landing strip on his ranch would be beneficial to Search and Rescue, because of my extensive knowledge … I said no, because we don’t need it for landing a helicopter and with two nearby airports readily available as well,” Gadwa said. “This statement was in no way personal.”

Gadwa also noted that he had been surprised to be sued by Boren, having gotten to know him in his capacity as an Idaho Fish and Game law enforcement officer.

“I have known Michael Boren since he was a very young fellow. As a game warden I gave him and his younger kid brother fishing pointers and tips numerous times,” Gadwa said.

Judge invites appeal to Supreme Court
Thompson, outlining reasons for dismissing the case, explained in his Tuesday decision that he could not rule the defendants’ speech “defamatory” because anyone who participates in a public governmental hearing is protected by “absolute litigation privilege.”

Even statements made before and after hearings to third parties—that is, if they are related to the subject of the proceedings and not made with malice—are protected by the privilege, the judge said.

“For the statements outside the [conditional-use permit] hearing and appeal, Boren’s [complaint] makes clear that each and every alleged statement of Michael, Fosbury, and Gadwa were related to and in the course of the CUP process,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson also agreed with Ferguson’s conclusion that Boren’s lawsuit had the characteristics of a SLAPP suit, as defined by other states, but noted that there is no anti-SLAPP statute in Idaho.

Therefore, he said the Idaho Supreme Court should weigh in “on how courts in Idaho should protect such important constitutional rights during what may be a SLAPP suit.”

“While the court acknowledges that a typical motion to dismiss does not permit such oversight from the court, it feels necessary in this case for the court to take a gatekeeping role in such a novel and potentially harmful case,” Thompson wrote.

Banducci told the Express over the phone and by email on Thursday that he was “disappointed” by Thompson’s decision to dismiss the action against the defendants, but that he believed legal proceedings to be far from over.

“However, we understand the court’s desire to obtain direction from the Idaho Supreme Court on issues in this case,” he said. “Mr. Boren continues to sustain damage as a result of the defamation described in the complaint. It’s our intention to appeal this order and have the matter sent back for trial after the Idaho Supreme Court has spoken.”

Michael told the Express that she was “relieved” by the verdict and hoped to have her legal fees reimbursed.

“I also hope that Idaho will enact a SLAPP statute that will expedite the process to defend against these types of frivolous lawsuits,” she said.

Gadwa agreed.

“Idaho desperately needs an anti-SLAPP law to stop this kind of frivolous attack on our First Amendment rights,” he wrote by email. “Sadly, the U.S. Forest Service did not stand up against this undesirable activity on the Sawtooth NRA.”

From the Idaho Mountain Express

Vallow-Daybell case: No pictures or video coverage in court, judge orders

From KTVB-TV

FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho — Cameras won’t be allowed in future court proceedings for Lori Vallow (aka Lori Vallow Daybell), the woman who, along with her husband, Chad Daybell, faces trial in January on charges of murdering her children, Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan.

Fremont County District Court Judge Steven Boyce on Friday issued an order prohibiting video and photographic coverage. Audio recording will still be allowed.

“The Court is very concerned that continued visual coverage of this case will impede the ability of the parties to select fair and unbiased jurors. While the Court has refrained from delving into viewing the coverage in this case, the coverage is so extensive the Court has had to proactively avoid viewing it, as it is routinely part of local, and at times, national news,” Boyce wrote in the memo accompanying his order.

Attorneys for Vallow in August filed a motion seeking to ban cameras from the courtroom, and the state concurred. More than 30 media outlets, including KTVB, joined a motion opposing such a ban, citing importance of public access to court proceedings.

Under Idaho Court Administrative Rule 45, judges reserve the right to limit audio or video coverage of any public hearing “when the interests of the administration of justice requires.”

Boyce makes it clear that the media in the courtroom up until now has not broken any rules or behaved badly, as was claimed by Vallow’s attorneys.

“First, the Court affirms that there is no indication that any orders relating to the conduct of the media during hearings in this case have been violated. The Court has likewise witnessed no misconduct on any part of the media during hearings in these cases. The presence of media during the hearings has in no way interrupted those proceedings, and attending media have been respectful and professional,” the judge wrote.

Boyce’s ruling comes just over a week after he heard arguments on the motion. (Video of full hearing posted here)

“In fully considering this decision, the Court notes that the media have raised a compelling issue: public access for the citizens of Fremont and Madison counties,” Boyce wrote. “The excessive coverage of this case has already resulted in the Court’s determination that trial will be held in Ada County, Idaho, as the Court has previously concluded that it would be unlikely to obtain an unbiased jury pool within the home county of this case, Fremont County. It is unfortunate that local citizens, including citizens of both Fremont and Madison Counties, who bear the cost of this case and should be given local access to this trial, should they wish to attend, now cannot do so without inconvenience.”

The trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 9, 2023, in Ada County. To accommodate residents of Fremont and Madison counties who wish to view the trial in person, Boyce wrote that the court will provide designated seating for them “in a manner to be further determined.”

The memorandum and order are linked here.

From KTVB-TV

Judge considers barring cameras from Idaho mom’s murder case

From the Associated Press

By Rebecca Boone

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A judge told attorneys in a high-profile triple murder case that he’s worried broad news coverage could make it harder to seat a jury when the trial begins months from now.

“You’ve named off 35 major media organizations, which tells me that there is huge interest in putting all the information out to as many people as possible,” 7th District Judge Steven Boyce said Thursday. He told attorneys he would decide soon whether to change how — or if — cameras will be allowed in the courtroom during the criminal case of Lori Vallow Daybell and her new husband, Chad Daybell.

The couple is accused of conspiring together to kill Lori Vallow Daybell’s two children, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, as well as Chad Daybell’s late wife Tammy Daybell. The strange details of the case — including prosecutors’ allegations that the pair used unusual doomsday-focused religious beliefs as the justification for the killings — have garnered international attention.

Late last month, attorneys for Vallow Daybell asked the judge to ban cameras from the courtroom, contending one news organization abused the privilege to videotape the proceedings when it repeatedly zoomed in on Vallow Daybell’s face during an Aug. 16 hearing. The attorneys, Jim Archibald and John Thomas, claimed the cameras and microphones could potentially be used to overhear private conversations or to view private notes on the defense table.

A coalition of news organizations led by EastIdahoNews.com last week asked the court to reject that request, noting the coverage of the hearing was done well within the bounds of the judge’s previous order allowing cameras, and that no notes or private conversations were ever captured. The Associated Press was among the nearly three dozen news organizations that joined in the request.

During Thursday morning’s hearing, the attorney for the news organizations said barring cameras from the courtroom would not stop widespread public interest. It would only prevent people from seeing the most accurate depiction of the court proceedings, Steve Wright said.

“The reality is, pretrial publicity is a result of what the state has charged and the circumstances in which they base that,” Wright said.

The video cameras and microphones were set up in places that were preapproved by court personnel, Wright told the judge, and the news organization that served as the pool videographer had a technical staffer that monitored the broadcast closely to ensure that nothing inappropriate was captured.

“These are professionals who are among the best at what they do in difficult situations like this,” Wright said.

Wright noted that the judge has the ability to decide where and how any cameras and microphones are placed in the courtroom if he chooses to do so. Barring cameras entirely would be a “vast overreaction,” he said.

“That is like taking a sledgehammer to an issue where a scalpel is appropriate,” he said.

Vallow Daybell’s attorney, Archibald, told the judge the media coverage was “salacious” and pointed out that the judge had already decided to move the trial to a different county “because of the media’s incessant, nonstop exposure of this case.”

During the last hearing, a video camera showed a close-up of Vallow Daybell’s face for about 30 minutes, Archibald told the judge.

“She’s been in custody now for two and a half years,” Archibald said. “What’s the point — to mock her? To make fun of her? To humiliate her? Does it add any value to the public other than prejudice jurors?”

If the judge does not want to ban cameras entirely, they could be restricted to the jury box or the front row of the courtroom gallery, Archibald said.

“This case is tough enough without sensationalization … we certainly don’t need any more drama in this case,” he said.

The judge said he would consider the matter and issue a ruling on a later date.

Idaho law enforcement officers started investigating the pair in November 2019 after extended family members reported the children were missing. Their bodies were found buried later on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho. Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell had married just two weeks after his previous wife, Tammy Daybell, died unexpectedly.

The couple was eventually charged with murder, conspiracy and grand theft in connection with the deaths of the children and Daybell’s late wife. They have pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors say the couple promoted unusual religious beliefs to further the alleged murder conspiracies. Lori Vallow Daybell’s former husband, who died while the two were estranged, said in divorce documents that Vallow Daybell believed she was a god-like figure responsible for ushering in the apocalyptical end times. Chad Daybell wrote doomsday-focused fiction books and recorded podcasts about preparing for the apocalypse.

Friends of the couple told law enforcement investigators the pair believed people could be taken over by dark spirits, and that Vallow Daybell referred to her children as “zombies,” which was a term they used to describe those who were possessed.

Vallow Daybell is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Arizona in connection with the death of her previous husband. Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who said it was self-defense. Cox later died of what police said was natural causes.

The Arizona legal proceedings are on hold while the Idaho case is underway and Vallow Daybell has not been scheduled to make a plea in the Arizona case.

From the Associated Press

Custer County prosecutor determines no open meeting law violation by commissioners

From the Idaho Statesman

BY NICOLE BLANCHARD

An Idaho prosecutor determined county commissioners did not violate the state’s opening meeting law in May when they co-hosted a land use workshop with American Stewards of Liberty, a nonprofit known for anti-public lands statements.

Custer County prosecutor Justin Oleson began investigating the May 5 meeting last month after Washington, D.C.,-based Accountable.US urged him to look into a potential open meeting law violation. The watchdog group said county commissioners conducted public business — discussing land use plans and national forest revision plans — but made it “practically impossible for ordinary Idahoans to attend” by charging $125 per person.

Idaho’s open meeting law requires that any meeting of a governing board for a public agency be open to the public unless the board meets requirements for an executive session.

On June 30, Oleson sent a letter to Accountable.US telling the organization he had finished his investigation and concluded no open meeting law violation occurred. Oleson said the workshop did not count as a meeting and added that the existence of scholarships for the entry fee — which he said went unused — proved there was no obstacle to the public attending.

Oleson said a Custer County commissioner attended an American Stewards of Liberty workshop at a meeting of the Western Intermountain Region of the National Association of County Officials. The commissioner felt a similar workshop would be helpful for public officials in Custer County, Oleson said.

Oleson said all three Custer County commissioners attended the workshop but did not sit together or discuss matters of public interest.

“It appears that this training was no different than numerous other trainings that county officials attend to increase their knowledge and abilities to do their job for the citizens of their respective counties,” Oleson wrote.

According to Boise State Public Radio reporting, the county paid American Stewards of Liberty $6,000 to $7,000 for the workshop. The nonprofit’s co-founder Margaret Byfield, who attended The College of Idaho and is the daughter of Nevada ranchers who were part of the original Sagebrush Rebellion, spoke at the Custer County workshop. The Sagebrush Rebellion was a movement in the 1970s and ‘80s in which western ranchers sought to remove public land from federal control.

In 2015, High Country News reported that Custer County had paid American Stewards of Liberty at least $23,000 by August of 2014.

In response to Oleson’s letter, Accountable.US officials said they were unhappy with the prosecutor’s decision.

“The prosecutor’s decision to condone a public meeting with a price tag is disappointing,” said Jordan Schreiber, Accountable.US’s energy and environment director, in a statement provided to the Idaho Statesman. “The law is clear here — whenever a quorum of commissioners are present for a meeting where the public’s business is discussed, it must be open to the public they serve.

“American Stewards of Liberty has a long track record of stuffing its pockets with tax dollars from counties that can least afford it,” Schreiber added. “Unfortunately for taxpayers, the fringe conspiracies they advance and the lies they tell about land conservation are never worth the price of admission.”

From the Idaho Statesman

Idaho GOP need only look back to know public debate is an American necessity that moves us forward

Editorial from the Idaho Capital Sun

Republican Party candidates should make themselves available to voters through live, unfiltered and televised discourse, writes editor-in-chief Christina Lords.

Abraham Lincoln was at a clear disadvantage.

Hardly any name recognition. Meager, worn clothes bereft of the wealth and class of a full-time politician. No major legislative policy wins to speak of, even as a former one-term Congressman.

But Lincoln was a student of history, of deep, evolving thought on the issues of his time, of storytelling, and he knew, as an Illinois candidate vying for a U.S. Senate seat in 1858, debating his opponent Stephen Douglas was important. He did so seven times between August and October of that year.

In a country brimming with the most discontent and disagreement since its revolutionary birth, and with an opponent whose ideas were fundamentally different from his own, Lincoln showed up. He gave his opponent equal time. He participated. 

He did so at a time when his country was splitting in two, like the Idaho Republican Party – and the country as a whole – seems to be at growing odds with itself now. 

Last week, three prominent Idaho Republican candidates for public office announced they will refuse to face members of their own party to talk politics on live TV. Gov. Brad Little, who is seeking a second term; state Rep. Priscilla Giddings, who is seeking higher office as lieutenant governor; and Congressman Mike Simpson, who is seeking his 13th term in the U.S. House, let Idaho voters down by announcing they would not publicly debate their opponents in the Idaho Debates, a 30-year tradition hosted by Idaho Public Television.

This isn’t the way the party of Lincoln used to handle things, even when the situation wasn’t exactly heading in their favor.

Douglas, considered to be a presidential favorite of the Democrats, was a well-known entity to Illinois voters, having crafted the controversial Kansas-Nebraska Act that would allow new U.S. states to decide for themselves if they would allow the enslavement of human beings within their borders. 

To Lincoln’s horror, the act undid the 30-year-old Missouri Compromise, which had prevented slavery from expanding in the U.S. as the country looked West. The act propelled him to debate and step back into the political spotlight to find solutions. The act eventually put our country on a collision course with dissolution of the union and civil war over slavery.

Douglas and Lincoln, however, didn’t shy away from their differences as the country wrangled with this, perhaps its most pressing and controversial issue ever. Like many of Idaho’s political candidates today, they knew each other. They met nearly 20 years before around a fire, exchanging ideas at Joshua Speed’s general store in Illinois, notes Doris Kearns Goodwin in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” Decades later, they weren’t afraid to meet each other face-to-face and discuss their plans for the country before a crowd in a public square.

“The choice we face, (Lincoln) told them, is all of ours together,” Goodwin wrote, paraphrasing Lincoln at one of the debates. “If we allow the Kansas-Nebraska Act to stand, if we allow slavery to spread, then the hope of America and all that it means to the whole world will be extinguished.” 

There was another option for the country, Lincoln told the crowd: Americans working together.

“We shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving,” Lincoln debated. 

And even though he didn’t win that particular Senate race, and as the country fell into two camps fighting each other as Lincoln predicted it would – as Idaho candidates are now – his participation in those debates undeniably set this country on a path for a more perfect union forever.

Policy differences should be the reason to debate, not keep Idahoans apart

Now, Idaho also finds itself on two conservative paths. 

There’s an old saying someone recently mentioned to me that “Republicans fall in line, while Democrats fall in love” with their candidates. But in this election, there are identifiable, stark policy differences between GOP candidates running for statewide office, perhaps more so now in Idaho than in recent memory. 

The May 17 GOP primary election will be a litmus test for the party’s own future. Will it be a party that advocates for fiscal conservatism, for balanced budgets and for limited, local government, or will voters agree with the far-right wing of the party that advocates for divesting from public education, for government intrusion into private health care decisions and for demonizing election workers by upholding baseless claims that threaten the legitimacy of our electoral process and its results?

Idaho voters have a right to hear about those ideas and differences directly from the candidates themselves –  without the safety net and comfort that one-sided advertisements, social media posts, anonymous and inflammatory political fliers and dark campaign money provides. 

But that isn’t what they’re getting in these three major races on the GOP primary ballot.

Each candidate gave slightly different reasons for bowing out on Idaho voters. Little said his policy record is “non-debatable,” Giddings demanded to approve the list of reporters who would serve on the panel (which is not allowed under debate rules) and Simpson made the sweeping assertion to the Idaho Press that Idaho voters had heard enough from his opponent. These candidates effectively put themselves above reproach and, in the same breath, silenced their opponents and their supporters by not allowing the debates to go on due to fair-time consideration rules outlined by organizers.

It should be noted that there is a contested Democratic primary race between Ben Pursley and David Roth for one of Idaho’s U.S. Senate seats, and a contested Libertarian primary race for governor between John Dionne Jr. and Paul Sand, where at least one candidate didn’t submit materials on time or said they did not want to participate in the debates. That’s shameful as well.

Despite repeatedly saying we need to bring back and build trust in government throughout his first term, Little is the first sitting governor seeking re-election to refuse to participate in the Idaho Debates in more than three decades. KTVB reports Little took that decision a step further by refusing to participate in any debate before the primary.

Giddings, who faced intense ethical scrutiny from her legislative peers, the public and editorial writers in the state after doxxing an alleged rape victim online, now lacks the courage to face those decisions head on as she seeks the second-highest office in Idaho.

Simpson, who did face his opponent Bryan Smith at the Idaho Debates in May 2014, has served Idaho in this capacity since 1999 and has understood that debating is, in fact, part of the job. Until now.

The announcements came as Republicans capitulated on a national level when the Republican National Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to stop its 35-year tradition of participating with the nonprofit Commission on Presidential Debates, citing a bias within the organization on the timing of the debates and its moderators.

In a tweet posted Friday, the Idaho Republican Party doubled down on this idea, mocking Idaho Debates organizers and demanding that partisanship be introduced into the process. The debates are a nonpartisan effort supported by Boise State University’s School of Public Service, the University of Idaho’s McClure Center, Idaho State University’s Department of Political Science, the League of Women Voters’ Voter Education Fund, Idaho Public Television and the Idaho Press Club.

Mark last week down as another flashpoint on the bleak timeline of steady decay within our political process and erosion of basic political decorum.

Let these decisions startle and impassion us all. Let them motivate Idahoans to hold accountable the politicians who won’t face public inquiry and who won’t advocate for their own policies, track records and ideas for the future of the Gem State.

Douglas and Lincoln debated seven times, three hours at a time, in front of thousands of people across Illinois’ multiple congressional districts. They forced Lincoln to confront, and more importantly, evolve his beliefs about slavery that eventually lead him to the path of emancipation.

Know that the politicians of today who make decisions to refuse to meet each other in the public square now discredit our country’s long tradition of public debate, such as the Republican Party’s own shining example in Lincoln, and they embolden the politicians of the future to hide behind cowardice and inaccessibility.

With its wide accessibility and viewership, the Idaho Debates program is one of the most effective ways for candidates to reach thousands of Idaho voters to earn their trust, understanding and support at the ballot box.

“Idaho Public Television reaches nearly every household in the state, and we know from past comments that many Republican primary voters rely on debates to inform their decisions at the ballot box,” said debate moderator Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television in a news release.

Idahoans are facing true hardship: desperately high property taxes, the worst inflation in decades, a booming population in a stressed housing market, a worn transportation and infrastructure system, and a vilified public education system.

Idahoans are looking to hear from the next crop of leaders on what their plans are to solve these problems.

It’s a true shame, in some of these primary races, that they won’t.

Editorial from the Idaho Capital Sun

By keeping police shooting reports quiet, Boise Police Accountability office fell short

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

The city of Boise’s newly revamped Office of Police Accountability is not living up to its name.

Without announcement or public notification, the office has been quietly posting incident reports over the past three months, including a report into the shooting of Mohamud Hassan Mkoma.

Further, the reports themselves leave much to be desired.

The Idaho Statesman was able to identify the report by matching details from it to the unique circumstances involving Mkoma’s case.

Even more troubling is that Jesus Jara, the office’s director, answered questions about transparency by saying the vagueness and quiet release of the reports are by design and align with how the ordinance creating the office was written.

Jara acknowledged that the lack of identifying information in a report could make it difficult for the public to know which incident a report is referencing.

“If that’s the case, in my mind, we met our goal,” Jara told Idaho Statesman reporter Joni Auden Land. “We’re trying to make sure people don’t know.”

Jara also said it’s not a goal of his office to disseminate the reports and that he has no plans to announce the release of any investigation completed by the Office of Police Accountability, whose stated goal is to increase transparency and accountability in internal investigations of law enforcement.

“We don’t plan on trying to make this something of a news item,” Jara said.

That is unacceptable.

Fortunately, the city of Boise announced Thursday, after reporting by the Idaho Statesman, that the office will start issuing news releases when it completes an investigation, a reversal from its earlier position.

That’s good news.

Communicating with the public is vital to transparency. It’s also vital to public trust.

If the public believes that the Office of Police Accountability is trying to keep its reports quiet, how can the public have any trust in the results? The review of the Mkoma shooting is dated Dec. 27, but no public statement was made about it or about any of the recent reports — three at the end of December, one at the end of January and two at the end of February.

The Statesman was made aware of the completion of these six reports during Jara’s presentation before the Boise City Council on Tuesday.

Family and friends of Mkoma have been pressing the city of Boise to release information about the incident as well as body camera footage. While the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has withheld the body camera footage for reason, the Office of Police Accountability should have and easily could have announced the release of its investigation.

Instead, the report was filed in December and sat on the city’s website for three months — unannounced to the public.

The report certainly isn’t easy to find on the city’s website.

The Office of Police Accountability page is not found under “Police Department,” as one might expect.

It also is not found under “Community Engagement.” It’s found under “Mayor’s Office,” which may not be a logical place to look for that office.

Further, without notification to the public, that means an interested party, such as family and friends, would need to check the site every day to see if a report has been posted.

Previously, the part-time director of the then-named Office of Police Oversight did her own community outreach. Boise Mayor Lauren McLean assured this editorial board in June that the Office of Community Engagement would handle such functions under the new Office of Police Accountability.

We would have expected, then, that someone from that office would have issued a press release to inform the public that a report had been completed and posted.

That never happened.

As it is, it appears that the Office of Police Accountability is not even posting its reports when they are filed. Rather, the reports appear to be posted at the end of each month.

After the city of Boise violated public records laws twice in the past few months, this is yet another troubling example of a lack of transparency from a mayor who ran and got elected on a platform of government transparency.

Aside from the lack of transparency, we are also troubled by the reports themselves.

Without names of officers involved, we are unable to determine whether an officer has been involved in other shootings or even in other disciplinary action. We don’t know how much experience they have or how much training they have — especially whether they’ve gone through critical incident training.

Jara said the ordinance creating the accountability office requires that no names or identifying information of anyone involved be included. If that’s the case, Boise City Council members need to make changes to the ordinance.

When changes to the office were proposed last year, this editorial board supported them.

Rather than reviewing a Boise Police Department internal affairs report and gathering further information as needed, we were told, the new model would put an investigator, requested by the Office of Police Accountability, at the site of a critical incident to conduct first-hand interviews and collect information independently right from the start.

Based on the Mkoma report, we’re not convinced that happened.

The report indicates that the Office of Police Accountability “participated” in the internal affairs interviews with the sergeant and officers involved, but it does not state whether the office asked its own questions or merely witnessed their interviews. The report does not state whether the office was able to interview officers independently.

We haven’t seen body camera footage of the incident yet, but according to the report, the officers in the Mkoma shooting acted heroically, perhaps saving the life of a 13-year-old child, and certainly saving the life of Mkoma after shooting him five times.

Officers put pressure on his wounds and performed CPR on Mkoma, who survived.

But our concern is more about transparency and being open with the public.

In our initial support for the new office, we had an important caveat.

“While we support the proposed changes, we want to make sure that the city doesn’t lose outreach to the community, particularly to minority communities,” we wrote in June. “It will be vital to maintain positive relationships with all segments of the population.”

Unfortunately, on several points, the revamped Office of Police Accountability is falling short.

Boise City Council members need to step in here and ensure the Office of Police Accountability is accountable to the residents.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser and community members J. J. Saldaña and Christy Perry.

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman