An email, a Senator and a bathroom

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Police reports involving a key Idaho lawmaker and a Boise high school bathroom started circulating the Statehouse last week.

The police reports, obtained by Idaho Reports, appears to have been scanned on March 10 and circulated by an anonymous, secure email account mimicking state Sen. Fred Martin, a Republican from Boise who has been at the center of several of this year’s most contentious legislative issues.

The email came from “fred.martin” <fred.martin@protonmail.com>. Proton mail is an encryption email service based out of Switzerland. The anonymous emailer asked the questions “Is he a pervert?  You decide. Did he use his position to cover it up? Sure seems that way.” Attached in the email were photos of the police reports.

“I feel like the email was a form of intimidation,” Martin told Idaho Reports on Saturday. “I took it as a threat.”

Idaho Reports has requested a copy of the reports from the Boise Police Department and also requested the names of all others who have obtained a copy of the documents. As of Saturday, Boise police have not yet responded. Boise police officials, however, have confirmed to legislators the reports are not a forgery. Martin himself confirmed they were not a forgery but said they were factually wrong.

Martin told Idaho reports “there is an active investigation into this email that has been turned over to the attorney general’s office.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had “no comment” on whether or not an investigation exists.

Martin is the chairman of the Senate Health and Welfare committee and is the gatekeeper of multiple high-profile policy decisions from immunization exemptions to Medicaid expansion work requirements.

Martin has said he opposes restrictions on Medicaid expansion and will not allow a hearing on the immunization exemptions bill, which has already cleared the House earlier this year.

Martin says this email has only strengthened his stance on these issues. “The committee did not want to hear 133 (the immunization bill)” said Martin. “Now we never will.”

“This email is not related at all to Medicaid expansion and will have no impact,” said Martin.

Some members of Democratic leadership see a possible correlation between the timing of this email and the positions Martin has taken.

“Anyone who is not toeing the line is at risk” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb, a Democrat from Boise.

“Martin exhibited suspicious behaviors during two known incidents on the property of Centennial H.S.,” the report reads of two incidents occurring in 2012 and 2014. “He had several inconsistent statements during an interview.”

However, the police concluded “at this point in the investigation, I have not identified any criminal activity that is prosecutable.”

The email was sent last week to multiple legislators in the Senate and the House seemingly at random. Idaho Reports has confirmed at least 10 House members and multiple senators received the email.

The documents attached in the email are titled “Scanned Documents 3.10.2019_page_01.jpg.” On March 8th, Miste Gardner-Karlfedt — a person active in Health Freedom Idaho — posted a clearly edited image on Facebook of Martin exiting a bathroom.

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Health Freedom Idaho has actively supported the immunization exemption bill. The group often posts about parental rights and the dangers of vaccinations.

Meanwhile, Dustin Hurst, communications director for the libertarian-leaning Idaho Freedom Foundation, responded: “Just wait until Tomorrow.”

Hurst told Idaho Reports on Saturday “that was a reference to our king Martin graphic.”

That king Martin graphic came out at 11:30 A.M on the same day as the bathroom photo was posted.

“I think the actions of Health Freedom Idaho hurt their cause,” Martin told Idaho Reports.

On a Health Freedom Idaho facebook post on Saturday the group denied being responsible for the email.  “Sen Martin is pointing the finger at HFI for releasing his police reports. While the contents of these reports are very concerning to many parents and Health Freedom Idaho members, we did not release these reports. It appears Mr. Martin is attempting to shift the public’s focus away from the contents of the police investigation, but Idaho citizens are too smart for this.”

The incidents in the report took place in 2012 and 2014. The first incident took place after a basketball game at Centennial High School in Boise. According to that report, Martin was wearing a long dress coat and had gloves on both hands when he entered the school by himself around 10:45 p.m.

Multiple custodians reported seeing Martin in the school at this time. One custodian who was cleaning bathrooms reported seeing Martin in the girls’ bathroom. The police report says “Martin was inside the women’s bathroom behind the wall with his back to the bathroom stalls and sinks.” The report continues “Martin was peering from behind the wall looking out the door into the hallway.”

“I was at the school after hours, but it wasn’t two in the morning, people were there,” Martin told Idaho Reports on Saturday. “I didn’t go into the bathroom, there was a cart, and I yelled into the bathroom because I was trying to talk to someone.”

The custodian “indicated he was startled because Martin was inside the women’s bathroom peering and had gloves on.” Martin appeared to be startled, according to the report, and left quickly without the two people exchanging any words. The custodian notified his supervisor after Martin allegedly left the building.

“No one followed me out,” said Martin on Saturday.

The report indicates that security footage from the school did not contradict the custodian’s memory of the incident. In the report, Martin denied ever entering the girls’ bathroom, but after being told, there was a witness “indicated he may have stepped out of the hallway into the little area at the entrance to the bathroom.” The report continues to say “Martin then made a statement about defining when the bathroom begins and when it ends.”

In the report, Martin said he was at the school to find out who had won the girls basketball game and his actions were entirely innocent. The report, however, says “Martin indicated that he saw several kids in the gym, but for some reason, he did not ask the kids who won the game.”

On Saturday, Martin told Idaho Reports he was attempting to find out the score of his grand-niece’s basketball game. Martin talked to Idaho Reports while attending a volleyball game in the Magic Valley.

When Martin was asked by investigators what he thought he was being accused of  “he stated he did not want to say it out loud or write it down,” says the report. “Martin then made several statements about knowing who he was and living a kind of life. Martin later stated he thought the accusation, because of the investigations, were centered on something to the effect of a peeping Tom.”

“Nothing in that report is true outside of me being at the school,” Martin told Idaho Reports.

Security cameras captured the second incident in 2014 outside the school. “Cameras showed a man who appeared to be Fred Martin pull up in a red Mustang,” says the report. “Martin first checked the two center main doors then checked the most eastern main door. Martin had negative results as all doors were locked. In the video, it shows Martin looking over his right shoulder as he was approaching the building as he was checking the doors. Martin walked back towards his vehicle where he was intercepted by a custodian who asked Martin if he needed help.”

Officers questioned Martin in his legislative office after the second incident. In those interviews, the report suggests Martin may have been receiving information about the investigation from sources within law enforcement “It appeared law enforcement was somehow involved in Martin obtaining information about the investigation on both occasions.”

Martin has never been arrested or tried for any of the actions in either report, and the investigators ultimately concluded no criminal activity that could be prosecuted was identified in the investigation.

“I will not be intimidated, I know who I am and those that know me, know who I am,” Martin told Idaho Reports Saturday. “Those who love me, know who I am.”

If you’d like to read the report here it is:

Scanned Documents 3.10.2019_Page_01

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No good formula to create the Education funding formula

Wide view of the boise capital building

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Backroom fights and posturing over how to fund Idaho’s education system found their way to the House floor last week and continued Monday. House Democrats joined with more conservative members of the Idaho Legislature to vote down the State Board of Education’s budget to signal their unhappiness with the rewriting of the state’s most key budget item: funding Idaho’s schools.

“If you want to exclude us from policymaking, then don’t expect us to vote for your budgets,” said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding. “That is not congruent.”

A key tension? Democrats feel left out of important policy discussions.

Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, a Boise Democrat, says she’s been a member of the drafting team to create the legislation since its inception nearly five years ago. She says she hasn’t been invited to any actual drafting meetings since December. Yet people have been writing possible proposals without her.

Ward-Engelking says she and Democrat Rep. John McCrostie – a fellow funding formula member – “were not invited to the meetings where the draft was finalized.”

“They are more concerned with their power than good, well-reasoned policy,” said Erpelding. The Democrats are looking at killing appropriations bill as a way to force themselves back into the conversation

“To punch when necessary,” said Erpelding. “But only punch to win.”

The Senate education chairman disagrees. “I can tell you that there haven’t been any discussions being had behind closed doors,” said Sen. Dean Mortimer, who oversees the education panel. “They’ve been open, so anyone that wanted to participate or know what was going on was welcome.”

GOP Rep. Wendy Horman, who is in charge of writing the education budget, emphasized no one was purposely left out and she has taken a backseat.

The funding formula proposal was turned over to the House and Senate education committee in a joint hearing in December, said Horman, who then added she stepped away from the process after co-chairing the interim funding formula committee.

Senate and House education leaders have held almost 20 hours of meetings with stakeholders and legislators.  “If they’re saying we haven’t had any input,” said Mortimer. “I’m saying that’s not necessarily the fault of the of the environment that we’re we’re making this legislation in.”

“It wasn’t only Democrats who felt they were shut out of the funding formula drafting process,” Horman said. “Members of the House Education Committee have certainly spoken publicly about feeling excluded from the process.”

The Democrats and some of the House Education Committee members are not alone in raising concerns. Some of the stakeholders who attended the funding formula meetings also feel like they haven’t been heard.

There have been lengthy and productive public meetings, but the concern is that key conversations are happening in private.

“It’s a giant investment of time, and we’re the ones who have to implement it,” said Quinn Perry, lobbyist for the Idaho School Boards Association.

“The working group, in my opinion, has done what it needed to do,” said Mortimer. “That was talk about the major issues some of the differences of opinion and we covered all of that.”

Tensions have since been heightened when the House Education Committee started talking about a bill – which may or may not have actually existed – stakeholders say they knew nothing about.

Around the same time, that same panel also raised eyebrows from stakeholders and Democrats when it started drafting funding formula legislation of its own.

Legislative leadership directed Horman and Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog to also draft their own funding formula version.

“It must have become clear to both House and Senate leadership this week that the process wasn’t working, and the Senate Education Chairman was directed by joint leadership to work on a draft on Wednesday evening,” said Den Hartog.” “I have assisted the Chairman with that.”

“Leadership agreed it was time to get a bill moving that honored the intent of the interim committee and incorporated stakeholder input,” said Horman. “(Den Hartog) and I got tasked with taking the interim committee’s version adding the stakeholder input and coming up with a draft.”

That was when Democrats and stakeholders started to object. “I said, what are you doing you’re going to blow the whole thing up, we cannot put something forward that doesn’t have stakeholder buy-in,” said Ward-Engelking. “It’s just not the right thing to do.”

“We’ve seen in the past what happens when stakeholders are not involved,” said Perry. “They’re not going to be calling legislators they’re going to be calling us.”

Critics of the process harken back to the Luna Law days, where in 2011 stakeholders also argued they were left out of important education policy decisions and eventually overturned the Legislature’s decisions through citizen initiatives.

“I think we’ll see a very similar situation that we saw with the Luna laws where people are going to say this isn’t right. You know you’re not talking to the people that are in the field, the people that are doing the day to day work with children and that’s whom people care about, we care about the children of Idaho,” said Ward-Engelking.

“My fear, if we don’t involve the stakeholders, is that it becomes a very political bill and we’re not looking out for the interests of our children here in Idaho,” she added.

A new funding formula, however, can only be created by the Legislature and the process is not even close to a conclusion. “It’s time now to let the legislative process happen,” said Mortimer. “Time for a bill to be brought, time for us to say yes this is what we want to do and not everyone may agree but if the majority agrees then that’s the way the legislative process works.”

People are still holding out hope despite the criticism and obstacles. “I believe a compromise could be reached on this,” said Horman. “I think we can get to a bill that takes into consideration the recommendations of the interim committee as modified by additional stakeholder input and we can get a compromise bill done this year.”

“I think we need to go back to the bill that the stakeholders have endorsed,” said Ward-Engelking. “That’s where we need to start and vote it up or down, and if they vote it down, we put this off and see what the governor’s task force can do to resolve this situation.”

Mortimer does not believe waiting until next year is an option. “It is not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to a lot of people,” said Mortimer. “We’ve already worked on it three years… it needs to happen, and it’s our responsibility to educate those that haven’t been here so long. I think if we miss the opportunity to at least get the framework in place, then we miss a real opportunity.”

Even the stakeholders still have hope. “We are committed to continuing our work with the Legislature to craft language that will work for everyone,” said Perry  “We will also continue our efforts to ensure the transition to a student-based formula will be as smooth as possible for our school districts and charter schools.”

In the end, though, hope doesn’t craft legislation. With a bill introduced and the killed in the House Education Committee today and a possible future bill in the Senate this week, we’ll have to wait and see what lawmakers, stakeholders and the people of Idaho can get behind.

Then keep an eye on Sen. C. Scott Grow’s ballot initiative bill, just in case this does end up like the Luna laws.

 

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The Presidential primary was not on Denney’s radar

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By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Secretary of State and the Governor’s budget recommendation to the legislature forgot about the Idaho presidential primary.

“It just slipped through the cracks because it wasn’t really on our radar,” said Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. “We didn’t even think about it.”

The Idaho presidential primary cost taxpayers $1.9 million in 2016. The budget recommendations from the Secretary of State and the Governor had zero dollars allocated to the election.

Early in the legislative session, Rep. Paul Amador discovered there was no money for the primary. “I was talking to the analyst,” said Amador. “Where are we going to get the money this year? Is it in the budget? And she looked and said ‘no, it’s not in there.’”

The members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) were caught off guard. “Budget writers usually don’t like surprises, especially when they increase the budget,” said Amador. “We always like surprises when they lower it.”

The legislative services analyst then informed the Secretary of State. “They called Tim [Hurst] and said you guys left out a big chunk of money,” said Denney. Hurst is the Chief Deputy Secretary of State.

Amador

“A lot of people have known about this and it hasn’t been a hush hush secret among JFAC members by any means,” said Amador. “We’re just finally getting to the Secretary of State’s budget today.”

JFAC is currently setting the 2020 budget, which is the year the presidential primary will take place. “The counties are not going to want to run the election unless there’s some money to pay them back,” said Denney.

That forced JFAC’s hand to find the money somewhere. “It’s just an extra two million dollars from the general fund appropriation,” said Amador. “So it’ll just come off the bottom line.”

In 2015 the legislature changed the way primaries work in Idaho. It moved the presidential primary to a set date in March and required the state to pay for it. The cost of the presidential primary was not included in the Secretary of State’s budget that year.

The presidential primary was funded in the bill that changed how the primary was administered, not in the Secretary of State’s budget.

“It wasn’t on our radar because last time around it was appropriated in the bill that created the presidential primary,” said Denney, “so it wasn’t in our regular schedule thing.”

This year, the Democratic Party has chosen to participate in the primary, but Denney doesn’t anticipate that changing the overall cost. “It will be the same. It may up the cost a little bit if there’s twenty five candidates and we have to print another page, but I think there’s enough to cover it and if it doesn’t it’ll come close.”

Today the primary was funded by JFAC and will go to the House and Senate for approval. “It wasn’t in the ‘you need to do this every four year line,’” said Denney. “But I can tell you it will be next time.”

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Idaho Supreme Court rules on defamation by implication case

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By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports 

The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled in favor of USA Today and KTVB in the defamation case concerning a former teacher. The opinion, released Monday, also defines defamation by inference, clarifying the standards for future potential lawsuits against media outlets and allowing a challenge against an Oregon television station to move forward. Read Monday’s opinion here. 

The case centered around former Idaho teacher James Verity, and reporting done by the USA Today network on a sexual relationship he had with an 18-year-old student at a previous job in Oregon. A lawsuit filed by Verity and his wife named USA Today, KGW, and KTVB as defendants. Read more here.

At the heart of the issue is “defamation by inference” — essentially, whether media outlets can be sued for reporting that isn’t inaccurate, but may imply defamatory information.

In this case, Verity argued that some reporting done on his relationship with the student implied that the student was a minor — not because the reporting outright said so, but because readers and viewers might think she was.

Both KTVB and USA Today said the student was 18, and focused the reporting on state reporting systems and national databases. KGW, however, did not mention the student’s age.

The opinion says to prove defamation by implication, a plaintiff must make a “rigorous showing” that a report must “reasonably understood to impart the false innuendo,” and that the author “intends or endorses the inference.” In other words, context matters, and so does intent.

The court ruled KTVB and USA Today didn’t hit those standards, ordering counts against KTVB and USA Today be dismissed.

The court, however, did affirm the district court’s conclusion that “a reasonable jury could find that KGW impliedly defamed Verity about having a sexual relationship with a minor.”

“Sometimes a communication will not be defamatory on its face, constituting express
defamation, but through context, omission, or other rhetorical devices, a defamatory implication might arise,” the opinion says.

In addition to intent and context, the subject of the reporting also matters, the court ruled. Reporting on a private individual such as Verity is different than reporting on a public figure with access to communication channels, according to the opinion — even if that private individual is a government employee, as was Verity.

“Verity lacked access to a bully pulpit and the USA Today article was published nationally, so any influence Verity could have had to defend his reputation as a public schoolteacher would be minuscule,” the opinion says.

The Supreme Court remanded the case back to district court.

(Full disclosure: The Idaho Press Club joined in an amicus brief in support of USA Today and KTVB. I serve as vice president of the Idaho Press Club and was involved in those discussions.)

Seth Ogilvie contributed to this report.

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Lawmakers respond to McGeachin Facebook post

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports 

Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin appeared in a photo on social media that has shocked several members of the Senate and prompted accusations of racism from Idahoans across the state. 

In the photo, McGeachin is making a heart symbol with her hand as two men make an OK hand gesture.

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Source: Facebook.

“I don’t feel safe,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan in a Friday morning interview with Idaho Reports. “It’s a white power sign.”

In a statement released Friday McGeachin said: “I wholeheartedly reject bigotry and discrimination in all of it’s forms.”

Governor Brad Little released a statement on Monday saying “I discussed the issue with the Lt. Governor. All of us must be accountable for our actions and their implications, and I trust her to do the same.”

The two men flanking McGeachin are Anthony Dephue and James Ward, members of the Political Prisoners Foundation. The foundation is an active non-profit in good standing with the Secretary of State’s office. The group advocates for Todd Engel, who was sentenced to serve 14 years in prison after his involvement in the Nevada standoff at Cliven Bundy’s ranch.

According to the Southern Policy Law Center, the OK hand gesture is sometimes used as a symbol of “white power,” when used by alt-right.

“The problem, of course, is that there are white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and Klansmen who have increasingly begun using the use of the symbol both to signal their presence to the like-minded, as well as to identify potentially sympathetic recruits among young trolling artists flashing it. To them, the configuration means WP, for “white power.”’

The hand gesture can also signal support for the Three Percent movement.

For the antigovernment Three Percenter movement this same hand gesture symbolizes their belief in the disputed claim that only three percent of American colonists fought against the British in the American Revolution,” says a 2017 SPL post. “The three extended fingers represent this three percent.”

McGeachin says in her statement that viewing this in terms of race “is part of a larger narrative to paint conservative leaders as embracing identity politics.”

“It had been our hope that this incident, whatever the intentions, would provoke a deeper dialogue. Clearly the dismissal of these concerns as ridiculous tells us all we need to know,” said Sen. Jordan after reading McGeachin’s statement.

Idaho Reports communicated with Dephue on Facebook. We are being characterized as White Supremacists for our hand gesture,” Dephue wrote. “We would like to engage in a civil dialog that will help your audience make an informed decision.”

Dephue did not address the possible racism in the hand gesture.

McGeachin explained why she deleted the picture from her Facebook Page. “Once I discovered that a few people had begun erroneously assigning sinister motives which are contrary to my character, I immediately deleted the post,” said McGeachin. “The photo was intended to show support for Engel and nothing more.”

Regardless of the intent behind the hand sign, some Idaho politicians have spoken out strongly over the photo.

“This image and the message that it sends is appalling,” former Republican legislator and Congressional candidate Luke Malek told Idaho Reports. “The Capitol of our great State… our people’s house… should never be used as a platform for hate.”

This photo is not the first time McGeachin has been connected to alleged racism on the internet. Idaho Reports reported on Facebook comments made during last years campaign.

“I’ve seen one, now I’ve seen two,” Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb told Idaho Reports.

“I’m surprised,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett. “The lieutenant governor should be more judicious with who she meets.”

In a joint statement from Senate Minority leadership, the senators stated constituents are upset.

“We have heard numerous grave concerns overnight and today from constituents who are now fearful of coming to the statehouse,” said the statement, released Friday morning. “Some have said they will not allow their children to visit. The openness of the statehouse is foundational to our service. Whatever the intention of the post, the impact has resonated negatively across the state.”

In the statement, Democratic leadership did not publicly call for disciplinary action or an apology from McGeachin.

The Lieutenant Governor of Idaho presides over the Idaho Senate, meaning regardless of how they feel, the senators will have to continue working with McGeachin.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill told Idaho Reports on Friday morning that he had just seen the post. “She is not part of the legislative branch of government. I have no authority to discipline her or have an ethics committee. That’s going to have to be worked out with the executive branch of government.”

Hill said he didn’t know until this morning that the hand gesture was affiliated with either Three Percenters or white supremacy.

“I just can’t react to that yet. I’m sorry, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t talked to her about it,” he said, adding that the dignity of the Senate does need to be protected.

Gov. Brad Little’s office said he will wait to release a statement until meeting with McGeachin.

Melissa Davlin contributed to this report. Idaho Reports will have more throughout the day, and on this week’s episode. Idaho Reports airs Friday at 8 pm.

This story was updated to include a statement by Governor Brad Little at 4:38 on Monday.

 

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US Supreme Court overturns ISC decision on right to appeal

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By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports 

The United States Supreme Court reversed an Idaho Supreme Court decision on Wednesday, siding with an Idaho inmate who claimed his public defender was ineffective. The broad ruling has nationwide implications, giving more clarity on the standard for waiving certain rights in court.

The case, Garza v Idaho, centered on the right to appeal. In 2017, the Idaho Supreme Court rejected petitioner Gilberto Garza Jr’s claim that his trial attorney was ineffective after the attorney ignored Garza’s requests to file an appeal after Garza had agreed to plea agreements. Wednesday’s 6-3 ruling reverses that decision, with Justice Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch dissenting. 

In 2015, Garza signed two plea agreements that waived his right to appeal. Shortly after sentencing, Garza informed his court-appointed public defender that he wished to appeal anyway. The attorney declined, citing those plea agreements, and ignored repeated phone calls and letters from Garza asking to file the appeal.

The 2017 Idaho Supreme Court opinion said it was unclear at the time what the standard for ineffective counsel was once a defendant knowingly signed a plea agreement that waived certain rights.

“Generally, when trial counsel fails to file an appeal at a criminal defendant’s request, such performance is professionally unreasonable and therefore deficient,” Chief Justice Roger Burdick wrote. “To show that counsel’s deficient performance was prejudicial, the defendant must show there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s deficiencies, the result of the proceeding would have been different. This test applies to claims that counsel was ineffective for failing to file a notice of appeal.”

“However, whether counsel was ineffective becomes unclear when the reason the attorney did not file the appeal is because the client waived the right to appeal as part of a plea agreement,” Burdick wrote. As of 2017, other courts had ruled on the issue and had split their opinions, but neither the Idaho Supreme Court nor the US Supreme Court had weighed in.

That changed this week. Justice Sonia Sotomayor penned Wednesday’s majority opinion, saying that language in plea agreements varies, and the possibility exists for waivers of appeal forfeitures.

“Garza’s attorney rendered deficient performance by not filing a notice of appeal in light of Garza’s clear requests,” Sotomayor wrote. “Given the possibility that a defendant will end up raising claims beyond an appeal waiver’s scope, simply filing a notice of appeal does not necessarily breach a plea agreement. Thus, counsel’s choice to override Garza’s instructions was not a strategic one. In any event, the bare decision whether to appeal is ultimately the defendant’s to make.”

Sotomayor wrote the ruling doesn’t mean Garza’s plea agreement is meaningless.

“Contrary to the argument by Idaho and the U. S. Government, as amicus, that Garza never ‘had a right’ to his appeal and thus that any deficient performance by counsel could not have caused the loss of any such appeal, Garza did retain a right to his appeal; he simply had fewer possible claims than some other appellants,” she wrote.

Sara Thomas, administrative director for the Idaho Supreme Court, said Wednesday’s ruling has broad implications for court proceedings nationwide.

“I think the biggest thing here is there is clarity for defense attorneys to understand what their responsibilities are,” Thomas said, adding this applies to public defenders and private attorneys alike. “Clarity is good.”

The opinion sets a more clear standard for waivers on two fronts, Thomas said: The language of the waiver needs to be specific as to which rights a defendant is waiving, and attorneys need to know that defendants are knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waiving those rights.

“There will be, I think, a big shift in procedure and how cases flow through the system,” Thomas said.

Idaho Reports will have more on this ruling. Meanwhile, you can listen to the October 2018 oral arguments here, and read Wednesday’s opinion here. 

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Overworked and underpaid

prison2By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

Last year the Idaho Department of Correction paid out approximately $5 million for almost 300,000 hours of overtime. The department averaged a worker shortage of 87 people throughout the year, with spikes in the summer when construction jobs have a tendency of luring away correction workers.

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“There’s certainly an element of exhaustion and being tired and added stress,” said Josh Tewalt, Director of the Idaho Department of Correction. “The secondary piece is just how tough it can be on families. They’re the ones that also have to bear that burden when they don’t know when Mom or Dad is gonna be able to come home.”

Excessive overtime has an emotional price tag. “There are enough stressors inherent to working in a correctional facility,” said Tewalt. “You don’t need to add to it.”

1 (4 of 4)That emotional price tag can lead to attrition. “You have to think of it in the terms of tolerance threshold,” said Tewalt. “People will put up with only so much crap for this much money. When you get out there and you actually feel the impact it has on staff, it’s like, man, this isn’t something that can wait. We’ve got to get to work on this right now.”

Overtime creates a cycle that leads to more overtime. People get sick from working the extended hours. “They’re tired they’re exhausted and guess what happens,” said Tewalt. “You’re sick calls go up.”

People quit or find other employment because they don’t want to work 16-hour shifts in a dangerous environment. They can find a similar wage at Costco with less stress and more dependable hours.

“It’s not reasonable to expect that we’re ever going to have zero percent turnover because we are competing against other law enforcement and other entry-level jobs,” said Tewalt. “It is a very unique line of work and it takes a very unique person to see how rewarding that can be.”

The overtime also has a financial cost. Idaho Reports analyzed the average wages and benefits required to fill the 87 positions and compared it to the overtime costs accrued last year and found that the overtime cost was over $1.5 million more than filling all the vacant positions.

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The chart shows a spike in November. That is partially because of an extra pay period in June and November. All other months have two pay periods, November and June have three.

The staffing problems also dictate how the Department of Correction deals with issues like out of state prisons. Entering this year’s legislative session a proposal was discussed to build another Idaho detention facility. The proposed facility would allow Idaho prisoners currently housed in two private prisons in Texas to come home. If those prisoners came home, they would be able to more easily meet with family members during visitor hours, creating a link to the community they will eventually reenter. Strong family and positive relationships within the community are a strong indicator of recidivism and successful outcomes after incarceration.

With the staffing crisis currently happening in Idaho, the possibility of finding hundreds of more workers to staff a new prison seems unlikely, leaving the two Texas prisons as seemingly the only short-term option.

Tewalt and Gov. Brad Little have some ideas about how to solve the problem. Filling those positions will take some changes. One of those changes is money. “It’s really hard here in the valley with what the prison over in Ontario Oregon pays,” said Little.

1 (5 of 4)“We’ll never be able to afford to pay them what I think they’re worth,” said Tewalt. “But we’ve got to be able to give them enough that they can afford to stay doing something that they love.”

The other portion is creating a scheduling and work environment that works for the correction employees. Arranging schedules to fit the needs of the institutions, the workers and the incarcerated could not only effect worker retention, but could have a positive effect on outcomes.

“We talk about needing improved outcomes in the community,” said Tewalt. “We talk about needing to have people coming out of prison in a better position to be successful in the community. We won’t do any of that unless we shore up our workforce.”

Providing education and training for inmates to help them be successful when they reenter communities is impossible without people to teach them and facilitate the programs they need.

The director’s solution is two-fold: Better wages and better personnel management. “If we hit both of them hard, if we’re able to affect the amount of money that’s going in their pockets, and we’re able to affect their satisfaction with the work they do, then these numbers will improve,” said Tewalt.

This isn’t just about correction workers and inmates. The vast majority of people incarcerated in Idaho will eventually become your neighbor, your coworker or possibly just a stranger walking down your street. The time spent in a correctional facility has a huge impact on how the incarcerated act when they receive their liberty back and rejoin the Idaho community.

“Our number one obligation is to keep Idahoans safe and that includes our employees,” said Little. “There is a problem and I think that Director Tewalt is doing a good job.”

The job, however, will not be completed overnight, and if this two-part plan doesn’t work or isn’t supported, the next options could be even more costly and more difficult.

 

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