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HJM 3: Paying Private Legal Fees with Public Dollars — 2023

Summary: HJM 3 suggests that Idaho taxpayers should cover a $600,000 legal bill for private parties.

ICL's position: Oppose

Current Bill Status: House Committee

Issue Areas: Grazing, Livestock, Public Lands, Stockwater, Water, Water Rights

Official Legislative Site

House Joint Memorial 3 is yet another attempt to encourage the State of Idaho to pay the private attorney fees for Joyce Livestock Company and LU Ranching Company. The fees resulted from a lawsuit filed by the ranchers against the federal government that wrapped up way back in 2007.

It’s a complicated case, and one that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is now suing the State of Idaho over, as they disagree with the ruling.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruling held that the federal government was not entitled to hold stockwater rights (i.e. when cattle drink from streams on grazing allotments). Instead, the ruling found that only ranchers, whose cows were drinking the instream waters, were eligible to hold those water rights.

Now, despite constitutional prohibitions on the expenditure of public funds for the benefit of private interests, Rep. Tina Lambert (R-Twin Falls) has proposed a nonbinding memorial that would encourage the Constitutional Defense Council (CDC) to pay the $600,000 legal fee for these private parties. The CDC is made up for the Governor, Attorney General, House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem, and is charged with paying for the losing side in legal battles…something that the Idaho Legislature is doing quite often these days.

As a reminder in 2009 the Office of then Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden wrote a letter to one of the cattle companies explaining how use of the CDC could not constitutionally and legally cover these fees. It was unconstitutional then, and it’s unconstitutional now. (They’ve tried this before, by the way.)

Oh, and by the way, not only is the Attorney General representing the State of Idaho in the ongoing case from DOJ, but the Legislature also intervened, so we’re paying for private counsel as well. Hold onto your wallets!

How much have taxpayers already spent??

Idaho taxpayers have spent over $1.625 million to increase funding for IDWR to process these stockwater claims, and now the AG is defending the lawsuit from DOJ ($$$), and the Legislature successfully petitioned to intervene, with private lawyers making somewhere around $500/hour ($$$). So far this year, we’ve spent over $69,000 in legal fees on the case.

An additional ~$265,000 is included in the FY2024 IDWR budget ($$$), and of the total 18,000 claims that could have been filed, only 11 ranchers have filed a grand total of 254 claims. Idaho is spending millions trying to seize water rights from the feds that most ranchers don’t seem to care about. Go figure.