Judge agrees to narrow gag order in University of Idaho student slayings case

From the Associated Press

By REBECCA BOONE – Associated Press

An Idaho judge has denied a request from roughly two dozen news organizations to lift a gag order in the criminal case of a man accused of stabbing four University of Idaho students to death. The judge did, however, significantly narrow the gag order in response to the news organizations’ concerns.

The ruling was handed down late Friday afternoon.

In it, 2nd District Judge John Judge said it was legally prudent to restrict attorneys from making some statements about the case in order to preserve Bryan Kohberger’s right to a fair trial. Still, Judge also said the original gag order — which also barred law enforcement officers and other people tangentially related to the case from speaking to the press — was “arguably overbroad and vague in some areas.”

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.

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 in January Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued the sweeping gag order that has barred attorneys, law enforcement agencies and others associated with the case from talking or writing about it.

A coalition of 30 news organizations including The Associated Press asked the Idaho Supreme Court earlier this year to reject the gag order, contending it violates the First Amendment rights of a free press. The high court declined to weigh in on whether the gag order violates the news organizations’ Constitutional rights, and said the media coalition should first ask the lower court to lift the order before asking the Idaho Supreme Court to step in.

“This Court has long respected the media’s role in our constitutional republic, and honored the promises in both the Idaho Constitution and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Justice Gregory Moeller wrote in the high court’s decision. He went on to quote a ruling from a federal case that said responsible press coverage, “guards against the miscarriage of justice” by subjecting the court system and those who are a part of it to public scrutiny.

In Friday’s ruling, the 2nd District judge said the gag order served a legitimate purpose and “the very limited incidental effects of the speech restrictions on the media’s First Amendment rights are overridden by the compelling interest in ensuring fair trial by an impartial jury.”

The new gag order — formally called a “nondissemination order” — prohibits any attorneys representing parties, victims or witnesses in the case from making statements that could have a “substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing or otherwise influencing the outcome of the case.”

The attorneys are allowed to comment about things like procedural issues, scheduling and make statements that a lawyer would reasonably believe is required to protect their client from substantial prejudicial effects of recent publicity — for instance, they can likely make public comments correcting misinformation about their client.

They cannot express opinions about the guilt or innocence of a defendant outside of the courtroom, and they can’t share information that they know wouldn’t be allowed in court. They also can’t talk about the character of a witness, expected testimony, the likelihood of a plea deal or other case-related matters.

“We are pleased that the Court significantly narrowed the nondissemination order, a clear recognition that the initial order was overbroad,” said Wendy Olson, the attorney representing the media coalition. “We all agree that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights are important but that in preserving those rights, nether the parties nor the courts can completely cast aside the First Amendment rights of the press. The press in cases like this one provide important transparency regarding how the criminal justice system works.”

The judge also denied a gag order-related request from an attorney representing one of the victims’ families. Shanon Gray, who represents the Goncalves family, asked to be excluded from the gag order so that he could talk to the press on the family’s behalf.

In the ruling, Judge noted that as an attorney, Gray could have access to confidential information about the case that would be prejudicial if it was released to the public.

From the Associated Press

Media: Gag order leads to ‘rampant speculation’ in Kohberger case

From the Moscow-Pullman Daily News


Originally published June 7 in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

The media coalition urging Latah County 2nd District Court to end a gag order in the Bryan Kohberger case filed another motion arguing it creates “a vacuum for rampant speculation online.”

Since Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall signed a gag order in January prohibiting attorneys and law enforcement involved in the case from speaking publicly about it, media organizations argue it violates their First Amendment rights.

According to the gag order, as well as Kohberger’s attorneys, it is necessary to protect Kohberger’s right to a fair trial.

Kohberger faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary in the November stabbing deaths of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin. Kohberger remains in Latah County Jail.

His jury trial is scheduled for Oct. 2.

On Friday, Latah County District Judge John Judge will preside over a hearing where the media coalition will make its argument to vacate the order. Judge will also hear arguments from the Goncalves family attorney, Shanon Gray, who sought a hearing to amend the gag order so he can speak to the public on behalf of his clients.

Wendy Olson and Cory Carone, the attorneys for the media coalition, wrote a recently released memorandum to support the argument that the gag order should be vacated. They are urging the judge to balance the First Amendment right with Kohberger’s Sixth Amendment right.

“The State’s and Mr. Kohberger’s failure to present any evidence of prejudicial news coverage, and the Court’s failure to consider alternative measures, means the competing constitutional rights here were improperly balanced and the Gag Order should be vacated,” the memorandum says. “If anything, the Gag Order prejudices Mr. Kohberger by depriving the public of quality information, creating a vacuum for rampant speculation online.”

Olson and Carone argue that Kohberger and the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office did not submit evidence when the gag order was first issued. Therefore, the memorandum states, they should not be allowed to “ambush” the media with evidence they should have disclosed earlier.

The media coalition also filed statements from reporters giving examples of ways they were denied information because of the gag order. The examples include police officials declining to answer their questions and denying public records requests.

A June 27 court date has been set to discuss Kohberger’s request to release the record of the grand jury proceedings, including transcripts and the list of jurors. Kohberger was indicted by a grand jury May 17, which led to his arraignment May 22. Judge entered a not guilty plea on Kohberger’s behalf during his arraignment after Kohberger chose to stand silent rather than enter a plea.

From the Moscow-Pullman Daily News

NIC releases Macomber report

From the Coeur d’Alene Press


COEUR d’ALENE — A report issued by North Idaho College attorney Art Macomber recommended that trustees nullify President Nick Swayne’s employment contract due to an open meeting law violation that allegedly occurred the day Swayne was hired.

Trustees Todd Banducci, Greg McKenzie and Mike Waggoner took Macomber’s advice Monday night, voting to nullify the contract but keep Swayne on as active president until further notice.

Tarie Zimmerman and Brad Corkill strongly opposed voiding the contract based on the report. Corkill said Macomber’s “unhinged analysis” appeared to be a “roadmap for a coup to get rid of the college president.”

NIC published the full 173-page report Tuesday afternoon after trustees agreed to release it to the public. Read it at cdapress.com.

Macomber acknowledged in the report that an order issued last month by Judge Cynthia Meyer — which called Macomber’s investigation into Swayne’s contract “a sham” — prohibits firing Swayne and that doing so could result in charges of contempt. In fact, following the board’s Monday night vote, a contempt hearing in Swayne’s lawsuit is scheduled for June 2.

But if trustees nullify the contract, Macomber argued, the judge’s order is no longer binding.

“The board should recognize the Swayne contract is null and void,” Macomber said. “As such, the Swayne lawsuit may and likely should fail for a lack of valid contract to interpret.”

The allegations of an open meeting violation stem from a phone conversation between Laura Rumpler, NIC’s chief communications officer, and Angela Provart, the independent consultant who facilitated the national search for presidential candidates.

NIC trustees met June 22, 2022, to choose a president from among four finalists. Prior to the meeting, in preparation for the announcement of the trustees’ choice of a president, Rumpler reportedly prepared a news release for each finalist, so that one would be available as soon as one of them was selected to be hired.

The morning of June 22, she reportedly sent an email to Provart, as well as to former trustee David Wold and former NIC attorney Marc Lyons.

“If there are two of the four candidates that are rising to the top, can you give me an indication so I can best prep, knowing we won’t know the final outcome until the board takes action tonight?” Rumpler wrote. “I’d really like to narrow down our work and strategy if possible.”

Later that morning, Rumpler said she and Provart spoke on the phone.

Rumpler alleges that Provart told her Swayne would be selected that night.

“Telephone conversations are difficult to verify, but the facts show Ms. Rumpler concluded her email exchanges with (the other finalists) early in the afternoon, while her exchange with Dr. Swayne continued late in the afternoon,” Macomber wrote in his report.

It appears that Macomber did not speak to Provart about the matter.

Provart confirmed via email with The Press Tuesday that she checked in with the trustees toward the end of the search process to gauge their feelings about the finalists.

“I reached out to all trustees individually, never as a group,” she said. “I talked with all trustees except for Banducci and McKenzie, as they did not respond to my messages.”

In the report, Macomber was critical of Swayne’s relationship with the NIC Foundation, an independent nonprofit founded in 1977 to encourage private support for NIC. Governed by a volunteer board of directors, the NIC Foundation solicits, accepts and stewards resources, including private donations, to enhance college programs and provide student scholarships.

The college president traditionally serves as the foundation’s corporate secretary. Macomber suggested this may be inappropriate and that Swayne’s loyalty may be split between the college and the charity that supports it.

“The board of trustees may want to reevaluate those potential conflicts, especially if Dr. Swayne is enjoying a second paycheck or other remuneration from the Foundation in addition to his presumably primary paycheck as North Idaho College president,” Macomber said. “This author has no written evidence of monetary payment from the foundation to Dr. Swayne.”

Macomber insinuates a conspiracy involving the NIC Foundation and the State Board of Education. The three former trustees who voted to hire Swayne were all connected to the NIC foundation. John Goedde and David Wold had served as board members, while Pete Broschet worked for a board member. Macomber implied that the State Board of Education appointed the trio to the NIC board because of their connections to the charity.

He added that the board should “reconsider the college’s relationship to this private entity.”

Macomber did not interview the former trustees he accused of participating in a conspiracy to hire Swayne. Instead, he issued subpoenas to them, along with college employees and others.

Macomber described Swayne’s lawsuit seeking reinstatement to his job as “unexpected” but “lucky” because it opened the door for him to issue subpoenas for information about Swayne’s hiring he might otherwise be unable to access.

The court quashed three of the subpoenas, calling them “unreasonable and oppressive.” Legal counsel assigned by NIC’s insurer withdrew the rest.

Macomber criticized those who did not comply with his subpoenas and said they are responsible for errors in his report.

“If any action taken by the board of trustees based on this report is found later to be in error due to a lack of information purposefully withheld by those parties, the public should understand that the blame for needless costs and delays must lie at the feet of those persons,” he said.

In her ruling, Meyer noted that the window for any action related to a June 22 open meeting violation closed in January, six months after the hiring.

Macomber disagreed, asserting that a public governing body may “self-recognize” an alleged violation and act upon it at any time, even years after the fact.

“If the board of trustees of North Idaho College wants to self-recognize its own violation of the Open Meetings Law that it may determine occurred in June of 2022, the use of this report to substantiate such act would not be time-barred under the statute,” he said.

But McKenzie and Banducci began to publicly question the legitimacy of Swayne’s hiring the very night he was selected as president, long before Macomber’s report existed.

In the June 22 board meeting, Banducci suggested Swayne’s hiring was a “naked power grab” coordinated by former trustees, the Idaho State Board of Education, Judge Meyer, the Attorney General’s Office, the governor and others.

“As far as I’m concerned, this entire process is null and void,” he said.

McKenzie, too, voiced concerns about “corruption” in the search process.

The pair also objected to voting for a president without first meeting in executive session to discuss the candidates. To enter closed session, four trustees must agree; the private session did not occur because McKenzie and Banducci blocked it.

At least $19,074 was spent to create this report, according to Macomber’s invoices from February and March, which make specific references to a “board report.”

However, because Macomber’s invoices are heavily redacted and his April bill is not yet available, it’s impossible to know the true cost of the report to North Idaho College.

Macomber report

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Ada library board violated Idaho Open Meeting Law in vote to remove books

From the Idaho Statesman

The Ada Community Library board violated Idaho Open Meeting Law at its March board meeting when the trustees voted to remove six books from the library’s collection without noting an action item on the agenda.

The board acknowledged its mistake in a statement posted on its website Tuesday morning after the Idaho Statesman published a story on the vote to remove the books.

“The board acknowledges the error and reiterates that those votes are ineffective and the books discussed will remain in the library’s collection pending any further action,” the statement said.

In a statement emailed to the Statesman, the board said it has no plans to take a re- vote on removing the books.

The board also credited the Statesman for making the board “realize the procedural deficit that occurred at the March meeting.”

The library trustees had voted to remove six books from the collection in March because they believed the content was “harmful to minors.”

“A series of books in the collection were read by trustees and reviewed under existing Idaho code to determine whether they contained material that fell within the current Idaho statutes’ definition of what is ‘harmful to minors,’ ” the board said in a statement to the Statesman. “Where it seemed so, the board voted to remove the books from our collection. Where the books did not contain such material, the board voted to retain.”

The board’s action came after a bill from the Idaho Legislature that would have opened library staff members to misdemeanor charges for disseminating material harmful to minors. Librarians are exempt from the current law in Idaho. The bill passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Brad Little after the board voted to remove the books.

The board voted to remove the following titles:

  • “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe
  • “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison
  • “All Boys Aren’t Blue” by George M Johnson “Out Of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Perez
  • “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison
  • “This Book is Gay” by Juno Dawson

The vote was taken under the agenda’s “legislative update.” The result was null and void because the agenda didn’t list a related “action item.”

“Due to a miscommunication, this was not done for the March 21, 2023, meeting and went unnoticed until recently,” the board said on its website.

The agenda for the board’s May meeting was not posted online as of Tuesday afternoon.

From the Idaho Statesman

Court denies request to lift gag order in Idaho killings

From the Associated Press


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Supreme Court on Monday rejected a request by 30 news organizations to lift a gag order in the criminal case of a man accused of stabbing four University of Idaho students to death.

The high court did not weigh in on whether the gag order, which prohibits attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and others involved in the case from talking to the news media, violates the First Amendment rights of a free press. Instead, the unanimous Idaho Supreme Court justices said the news organizations should have brought their request to the magistrate judge who issued the gag order.

“This Court has long respected the media’s role in our constitutional republic, and honored the promises in both the Idaho Constitution and First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Justice Gregory Moeller wrote in the decision, going on to quote a ruling from a federal case that said responsible press coverage, “guards against the miscarriage of justice” by subjecting the court system and those who are a part of it to public scrutiny.

Still, Moeller wrote, the balancing act between the First Amendment protections afforded to the press and the Sixth Amendment fair trial rights promised to defendants has become increasingly difficult with the advent of the internet and social media.

Though those are “well-guarded rights,” Moeller said, news organizations who wish to challenge gag orders should start at the lower courts and work their way up to the state’s highest judicial bench, rather than approaching the Supreme Court first.

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.

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 in January Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued the sweeping gag order, barring attorneys, law enforcement agencies and others associated with the case from talking or writing about it.

The coalition of news organizations, which includes The Associated Press, contends the gag order violates the right to free speech by prohibiting it from happening in the first place.

An attorney representing the family of one of the victims has also filed an opposition to the gag order in state court. Shannon Grey, who represents the Goncalves family, said in that challenge that the gag order is unduly broad and places an undue burden on the families. Marshall said a hearing on the matter would be held after the Idaho Supreme Court issues a ruling on the news organizations’ challenge.

Kohbergers’ attorneys, meanwhile, contend the gag order essentially requires the attorneys involved in the case to act ethically to ensure Kohberger gets a fair trial.

“This is not a case where the attorneys seek to use the rules as a weapon against one another. It is a case where a young man is on trial for his life,” Logsdon wrote. “There was nothing inappropriate about the Magistrate Court reminding the attorneys involved of their ethical obligations.”

High-publicity cases often present 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 the case — by forbidding those involved from talking about it — is an effective way to limit publicity.

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. During the investigation into the University of Idaho students’ slayings, news organizations’ interviews with investigators and law enforcement officials often worked to quash misinformation spread online by people who styled themselves as sleuths on social media sites.

“While we are disappointed that the Court denied the petition, the media coalition now has a clear path under Idaho law to challenge the gag order and vindicate these important First Amendment rights,” Wendy Olson, the attorney representing the news coalition, said.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruling means the news coalition could now go to the magistrate judge to ask her to reconsider the gag order. The coalition has not yet announced any next steps.

From the Associated Press

Emails show NIC trustees, lawyer planned meetings in private

From the Coeur d’Alene Press


COEUR d’ALENE — North Idaho College attorney Art Macomber and trustees Greg McKenzie, Todd Banducci and Mike Waggoner used personal email addresses to secretly prepare for public meetings during which the three trustees, as a board majority, hired Macomber and ousted NIC President Nick Swayne by placing him on administrative leave.

Two such emails revealing the communications became public Thursday as part of a lawsuit filed by Mike Gridley, the former attorney for the city of Coeur d’Alene.

The lawsuit, submitted to the court in December 2022, accuses Macomber and the three trustees of fraud and of violating Idaho’s open meeting laws. The suit also alleges interim president Greg South has received “unjust enrichment” as a result of his hiring.

Emails obtained through the discovery process show private planning for public meetings by a board majority: Banducci, McKenzie and Waggoner.

“The emails memorialize ‘This is what we want to do at the December meetings,’” said Kinzo Mihara, the attorney representing Gridley, before Judge Ross D. Pittman during a hearing Thursday in Kootenai County Magistrate Court.

Court records show that Macomber sent an email Nov. 21 — two weeks before his hiring — to McKenzie, Banducci and Waggoner via their personal email addresses.

Banducci and Waggoner frequently use personal email accounts for college-related communications, while McKenzie typically uses his NIC-provided email account, although he too uses a personal email account at times.

“Leslie and I are leaving on December 15 for Texas and returning December 29,” Macomber wrote. “The December NIC meeting could be the 14th or earlier, or December 30, unless you guys want to pay me to fly for a day in between. I would say it’s not worth it and either set it earlier in the month or really late.”

“I would suggest earlier,” replied Waggoner.

In a Dec. 1 email to the three trustees, Macomber attached and described documents he had created in preparation for meetings that would occur throughout the month.

“These three resolutions cover the bases,” Macomber wrote. “Also, the letter to Lyons is changed.”

One resolution instituted a hiring freeze for the president’s cabinet, while the other two had to do with the college’s legal counsel.

The letter was a demand that Marc Lyons, the college’s former attorney, turn over “all NIC records” in his possession. Lyons resigned from his position last November, after 23 years, citing tensions on the board of trustees.

The other two trustees on the five-member board, Brad Corkill and Tarie Zimmerman, confirmed Thursday that they had no knowledge of the private communications between Macomber and the other trustees.

Gridley has asked the court for permission to amend his civil complaint to include new information unearthed through the discovery process, including the emails.

Mihara argued in court Thursday that the emails are relevant to the case because they involve violations of Idaho’s open meeting laws, which exist to prevent the public’s business from being conducted in secret.

“Sunshine needs to shine on these facts,” Mihara said.

Brittney Adams, an attorney representing South and the three trustees, rejected Mihara’s assertion that the emails are evidence of illegal serial meetings.

“These weren’t serial meetings,” Adams said. “This was a series of emails.”

Serial meetings, which violate Idaho’s open meeting law, occur when a majority of members of a governing body have a series of small gatherings or communications to make a decision or deliberate toward a decision, even if a majority is never part of any one communication.

Idaho’s open meeting law requires that all meetings of a governing body of a public agency shall be open to the public, with meeting notices and agendas shared with the public prior to a meeting. The law defines a meeting as any convening of a body to make a decision or deliberate toward a decision on any matter.

At the Dec. 5 board meeting, Macomber and Banducci said that Banducci had drafted the resolutions presented that night.

Three days later, in a subsequent board meeting, Macomber revealed that he had written the resolutions and gave them to Banducci. The Dec. 1 email confirms that he also shared the resolutions with Waggoner and McKenzie ahead of time.

Macomber, who donated to the political campaigns of the three trustees he’d secretly emailed, also claimed during the Dec. 8 meeting that he didn’t anticipate being hired as the college’s new legal counsel. He said he’d taken it upon himself to write his own fee agreement after Lyons resigned.

“I didn’t know if there were other attorneys they were thinking of,” Macomber said Dec. 8. “But I thought, ‘You don’t get anywhere by just sitting back and waiting for life to happen to you.’ So I brought the fee agreement and there it was. These guys voted me in.”

His earlier emails contradict that statement, showing he planned for the board majority to hire him.

Other documents in Gridley’s amended complaint showed that Greg South altered the contract of a temporary employee to add a $40,000 exit bonus after that employee had already resigned. This occurred three hours before trustees complied with a court order to reinstate Nick Swayne as active president.

Emails from South indicate that Jim Forkum, an interim South hired in early January, resigned from his position March 5.

In a declaration filed with the court, Macomber said South instructed him verbally March 6 to draft a modification of Forkum’s contract. He said South didn’t tell him that Forkum had already resigned.

At 6:35 a.m. the same day, Macomber reportedly emailed trustees and members of the president’s cabinet to say that Swayne was not president until the board formally acted to reinstate him, according to records obtained by The Press.

That afternoon, South and Forkum signed the modification prepared by Macomber, which stipulated that Forkum would be paid as if he had worked through June 18, 2023, if he or NIC ended his employment before that date.

“The agreement as signed on January 10, 2023 neglected to add termination provisions related to how Dr. Forkum would be paid by North Idaho College if the contract was terminated early,” the document said.

The cost of implementing the modification would be $52,238.40, an additional $40,000 over the amount owed according to Forkum’s original contract.

Judge Pittman said Thursday that he will consider whether to allow Gridley to amend his complaint and issue a ruling at a later date.

Read the documents at cdapress.com.

Documents from Greg South and Art Macomber

Art Macomber declaration, including emails

Gridley motion to amend complaint

From the Coeur d’Alene Press

Records show Little’s office directed IDHW to pull Pride sponsorships

From the Idaho Press


A day before the start of the Boise Pride festival last September, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen sent a letter to festival organizers saying his agency would be dropping its sponsorships.

Jeppesen’s letter, which circulated on social media, said that though the agency had sponsored the event in previous years, it would be dropping its two sponsorships this time due to “some confusion about whether DHW endorses specific activities involving minors during this event.”

Outcry had erupted two days before over concerns that sponsors of the festival were condoning a festival event called “Drag Kids,” in which kids would dress in drag and perform on stage on Sunday afternoon.

But the letter didn’t include a key detail: The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is a state agency that answers to the governor’s office. Gov. Brad Little’s office had asked the agency to terminate its sponsorships, email records obtained through a public records request show.

Madison Hardy, the governor’s press secretary, confirmed that in a statement provided to the Idaho Press via email.

“The Governor’s Office asked DHW to pull its sponsorship of 2022 Boise Pride event because of concerns about public funds being used to support an event that planned to feature children as young as 11 performing in drag before an adult audience,” Hardy said.

Hardy declined an interview for Little or other governor’s office staff, and did not provide answers to additional emailed questions regarding the decision or officials’ positions on LGBTQ+ issues.

In an email to the Idaho Press, Niki Forbing-Orr, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Welfare, declined interviews for department staff, saying, “we don’t have anything to add at this point.”

Emails from the agency in the week leading up to the festival show that staff were disheartened by the decision. And Boise Pride Executive Director Donald Williamson said he is considering legal action against the state for breaching its contracts for Boise Pride 2022, amounting to a loss of $38,000.

A quick refresher

The decision to pull sponsorships came following an article published by the Daily Caller, a right-wing news and opinion outlet, which questioned why corporations were sponsoring an event featuring children performing in drag, as previously reported. Following that article’s publication, Idaho GOP Chairwoman Dorothy Moon sent emails denouncing sponsorship of the event, alleging that the drag kids event promotes the sexualization of children. On social media, posts circulated that included sponsoring businesses’ names and contact info and encouraged concerned citizens to call on sponsors to terminate their sponsorships.

Such messaging about children being in danger has become common among far-right groups in recent years, though the ostracization of the LGBTQ+ community — and their fight to be accepted in society — is not new. The most recent narrative insinuates that members of the LGBTQ+ community are pedophiles, sex traffickers, and the like, and are “grooming” children in order to molest them, ideas promulgated by QAnon and other conspiracy theories.

Following Moon’s email, Boise Pride issued its own statement, saying, “the only perversion and sexualization of this performance are coming from extremists and people like Dorothy Moon who are twisting it into something it is not.”

But the statement did not prevent sponsors from dropping out. In total, the festival lost about 6% of its sponsors, Williamson said. Those that dropped were Zions Bank, CapEd Credit Union, Idaho Central Credit Union, Idaho Power, and the Department of Health and Welfare.

The Thursday before the festival weekend, Boise Pride announced it was postponing the Drag Kids event. But sponsors that had dropped out, including the Department of Health and Welfare, did not opt back in.

‘Incredibly disappointing’

DHW staff emails in the week leading up to the festival show that higher officials in the organization were well-aware of calls to revoke sponsorship.

Late on Wednesday, following Zions Bank’s announcement of its dropped sponsorship, a DHW staff member wrote, “there is a chance the governor’s office may ask us to pull our sponsorships … “

By late Thursday morning, a day before the start of the festival, Elke Shaw-Tulloch, administrator for the public health division of DHW, sent an email to notify some staff that the governor’s office had indeed asked the department to pull its sponsorships and that she would be drafting a letter to let Boise Pride know.

“The governor’s office likes the tone of the Zions Bank letter,” Shaw-Tulloch said in the email. “I would like something that also emphasizes our support for the community and the importance of our services.”

Shaw-Tulloch continued, “I very much appreciate all of the hard work of your programs and your staff supporting the community and I expect that to continue. This saddens me to not support this particular event, but I understand the downstream ramifications.”

Cristi Litzsinger, a bureau chief with the agency, said in an email to some of her staff, “I agree with Elke’s sentiments and it makes me sad it has come to this.”

In a separate thread, Aimee Shipman, the section manager for the HIV, STD, and Hepatitis program, said, “This is incredibly disappointing. We are throwing our strategic populations under the bus just because of a letter?” She appears to be referring to Moon’s email.

After Boise Pride announced it was postponing the Drag Kids event, staff in DHW’s HIV, STD, and Hepatitis program seemed hopeful the sponsorship could still move forward.

“Do you know since the drag (kids) show was dropped if we are still moving forward with withdrawing sponsorship?” Shipman wrote Friday morning.

“Yes, we are waiting to hear if we are back on for sponsorship today,” Litzsinger said. “Hopefully soon.”

“I know the letter (to Boise Pride) was sent, but there still might be a chance the department will change their mind?” wrote Kimberly Matulonis-Edgar, program coordinator for the HIV, STD, and Hepatitis program on Friday morning.

“Correct,” Litzsinger replied.

It is unclear what additional discussions were had, but the department did not reinstate its sponsorships.

In a December email provided to the Idaho Press by Williamson, a staff member with DHW told Boise Pride organizers that “our program heard about the sponsorship retraction after you did, and were equally upset. We weren’t able to talk through the ramifications nor able to convey that it actually presented to stand up to discrimination and stigma.”

The person says their program “hasn’t heard much from DHW since the week after Pride,” and, “our program will do everything in our power to continue supporting the event, and are actually more motivated than ever to make sure we find ways to support organizations that work directly for/with the LGBTQIA+ community.”

DHW’s indirect participation

The Department of Health and Welfare had two sponsorship agreements in place for the festival. And though it had dropped its sponsorships, some components went ahead, records show.

The first sponsorship was from the department’s Project Filter, a smoking cessation program, which was supposed to have a booth at the event. The program is for all Idahoans, not just the LGBTQ+ community, Shaw-Tulloch told a colleague via an email obtained by the Idaho Press.

The department considers the LGBTQ+ population a priority for smoking cessation efforts because “it tends to have a tobacco use rate almost 3 times higher than the rest of the population,” Shaw-Tulloch said in the email.

In addition to the booth, the program’s sponsorship meant a contribution of $18,000, according to the contract for the event. Because of the sponsorship termination, the program did not have a booth at the festival, according to department emails.

The other sponsorship was $20,000 from the department’s HIV, STD, and Hepatitis Section. That program had not planned to have a booth but did provide materials to two other organizations at the event, according to department emails.

Full Circle Health, an Idaho health care provider, received condoms to distribute during the festival, according to email records. And Central District Health, the local health district covering Ada, Boise, Elmore, and Valley counties, received condoms and PrEP, a preventative medicine for HIV, for festival distribution, according to department emails.

In addition, the department contracted with Injury Care EMS to provide vaccinations during the event, Forbing-Orr told the Idaho Press via email. That effort provided 189 doses of MPX vaccine, which protects against the disease caused by the monkeypox virus, and three doses of COVID-19 vaccine, Forbing-Orr said.

Central District Health staff also administered 76 MPX vaccines at The Balcony during the festival weekend, said Maria Ortega, a spokesperson for the district. Those vaccines were originally distributed by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to entities that requested them, though they were not distributed specifically for use during pride events, she said.

Potential lawsuit

Of all the Boise Pride 2022 sponsors, including those that rescinded their sponsorship, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is the only sponsor that has not paid, Williamson, the executive director of Boise Pride, said.

The department had two contracts in place with the festival, and choosing to back out on those just a day prior to the start of the festival means the department is still legally obligated to fulfill them, Williamson said.

“Breach of contract. Absolutely breach of contract,” Williamson said.

On Oct. 5, Williamson sent an email to Jeppesen asking the department to make good on its contracts, but said he reduced the amount invoiced to 75% of the original amount for both the Project Filter and the HIV, STD, and Hepatitis sponsorships.

Williamson’s email discusses how in his understanding, the funding that would have been coming from Project Filter and the HIV program was federal funding those programs had at their discretion to distribute in the fulfillment of their public health objectives. The department still had a presence at the festival through its vaccination booths, and the department’s presence is essential for being able to directly reach members of the LGBTQIA+ community about health issues, Williamson said.

“It was unfortunate that partisan pressure from certain extremist members of the Idaho GOP and their supporters were able to get in the way of that mission and severely damage the years of goodwill and trust-building that your department has developed with the Idaho LGBTQIA+ community,” Williamson’s email said.

“It is easy to be a ‘supporter’ when things are all butterflies and rainbows, but when things get muddy and difficult, that is when support is truly needed and most impactful,” another part of Williamson’s email said. “The citizens of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies will notice that inaction, and they will remember it.”

On Nov. 15, Boise Pride Board President Michael Dale followed up on Williamson’s email, saying “we have yet to receive any response from anyone at the (department) other than your letter on September 8.”

“We are fine if you do not wish to sponsor or be involved with Boise Pride in the future, but this doesn’t resolve the obligation that is still due from 2022,” Dale said.

On Nov. 17, Sen. Melissa Wintrow wrote to Jeppesen, saying, “I understand that after the head of the GOP started to threaten businesses, that many folks pulled sponsorships but for a state that values contracts, I would hope that my colleagues would understand the importance of following through on them.”

“I know that you are … doing what you are directed to do, but once again, an agreement/contract is an important part of business,” Wintrow said.

On Dec. 8, Jeppesen replied to Williamson and Dale, saying, “it remains the position of the department that it retains the ability to ultimately determine how best to maximize the use of program sponsorship funds, which includes the withdrawal of our sponsorship funding from any applicant if that becomes necessary.”

Forbing-Orr declined to provide an updated comment on the department’s stance for this story.

The politics of bowing out

The events that unfolded around DHW’s sponsorship of the festival and being asked to renege on its sponsorship are unsurprising in the context of Idaho politics in recent years, said Luke Fowler, associate professor of administration and public policy at Boise State University.

Some of the controversies in the state since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as whether to mask, have boiled down to how people view the role of government, Fowler said. Drag kids performance aside, some may still see DHW’s public health mission and the strategies it employs to achieve it as government overreach, Fowler said.

“Of course there are issues of discrimination against the LGBTQ community here, but (the controversy was) also about how we are spending public resources and whether DHW should be doing this or not, whether or not this is the role of a government agency,” Fowler said.

It is true that federal agencies give money to state government agencies to spend, including health departments, Fowler said. But state agencies are still at the whim of their governors, legislators, and local government.

“We’re seeing this more and more, where state legislators and the governor are saying do one thing, and federal institutions or laws are saying do something else,” Fowler said. “That puts these bureaucratic agencies in really sticky situations.”

As for why the governor’s office did not publicize its involvement in the decision, Fowler said that while he could not say for certain, it represents a classic political strategy: shifting blame away so as to not be perceived as the center of controversy. Plus, Little likely did not want to pit himself against the will of those who are farther right in his party, Fowler said.

Williamson pointed out that the kerfuffle occurred two months away from the November general election, in which Little was running for reelection.

Fowler said he has not personally spoken with anyone in the governor’s office about the events, but added, “I imagine (Little) looked at it and was like, ‘look, this is not worth the fight … let’s save our political capital to have fights over scholarships, or jobs, or something else.’”

Lessons learned, looking to the future

Children have performed at the festival since its inception 32 years ago, Williamson said.

“Like I’ve said countless times before, there’s a difference between the drag show that you and I would expect to see in a park on a Sunday afternoon with kids performing versus one on a Friday night at 10 where we’re paying a $20 cover and getting alcohol and there’s no kids,” he said. “It’s no different than any other type of performative art, whether it’s musicals, plays, or whatever.”

“(The far right) is just trying to spin it to fit their narrative, and it just happens to be their soup du jour this year that it’s kids and drag and grooming,” Williamson said. “It’ll be something different next summer because this can’t stick forever.”

However, Williamson said he would have phrased the description of the event differently. It read, “You’ve seen the Queens and Kings and now it is time to see the kids. A drag show like none other the drag kids range from 11 to 18 and are ready to bring it all to the Boise Pride festival stage! Come and cheer them on as they bring drag to the younger generation!”

He said he sees why it seemed ambiguous to sponsors what the event would actually entail, particularly when viewed through the narrative of Moon and other politicians.

In reality, the performance was going to feature around five children: two 18-year-olds, two 16- or 17-year-olds, and one 11-year-old, Williamson said. The 11-year-old was slated to perform with their mother, who is a local drag performer, Williamson said. The description of the event could have included more language about the event being all-ages and family-friendly, he said.

One of Williamson’s goals as executive director is to organize additional Boise Pride events throughout the year beyond the diversity prom and September pride weekend.

“Those events are amazing and our community needs those,” Williamson said, “but we have to be a bigger presence in this community than just those two things. It has to be more year-round, whether it’s events, whether it’s outreach, whether it’s resources for mental health. … I have a plethora of ideas, just have to figure out a way to get there.”

From the Idaho Press

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