AG talks budget with JFAC

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(Photo by NINA RYDALCH) The Attorney General speaks on his office’s budget at JFAC Jan. 30.

BOISE — There are more legal cases in the state of Idaho than the state’s Attorney General’s Office can currently handle, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden told the Idaho legislature’s finance committee Jan. 30.

Wasden’s office requested funds for five additional employees, including two investigators for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and a deputy attorney general and paralegal to help defend Idaho’s master settlement against tobacco companies. Wasden told the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee that the ICAC Task Force is unable to keep up with the number of cases it receives, especially in North Idaho.

“We plan to add another (affiliated investigator) in North Idaho to help with a particularly large case load there,” he said.

The governor recommended funding two of the five positions — one of the ICAC investigators and the deputy attorney general.

Tara Orr, chief of the Attorney General’s budget division, said the new deputy attorney general, who would defend the tobacco fund, would have a salary of $72,000.

Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, said most lawyers of similar caliber would usually be paid significantly more, and asked about the number.

“We’re optimistic we can hire someone,” Deputy Attorney General Brett DeLange said. “The sort of quality candidates that we are seeing apply for some of the other jobs in the office, we think we can find that person.”

DeLange said while Idaho is currently receiving $23 million every year from the tobacco settlement, tobacco companies are spending “literally millions of dollars in attorneys’ fees and their own experts.”

“Currently we have a large number of staff assigned to this case and we simply don’t have the manpower to in the future, adequately, in our view, defend these payments,” DeLange said.

He said as long as the settlement is defended, Idaho will receive money from the industry every year, always.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said Idaho may eventually have to give up on the settlement.

“We have plenty to do in the state without this,” she said. “This has been a boon to us, but maybe there comes a day when we let it go.”

DeLange commented, saying the money from the tobacco industry has helped fund multiple public health initiatives such as tobacco cessation and the Idaho Meth Project.

“That money is money that we settled, we think we’re entitled to,” Delange said. “And we intend to hold the industry to that settlement so that money continues to come, so this body has the opportunity to determine how best to spend it.”

Bell said she worried the “cost may get to the point where it’s flipping.”

The Attorney General’s budget also included a request for another deputy attorney general, who would assist the Idaho State Department of Corrections in the Balla vs. Idaho case. The governor rejected the request.

Nina Rydalch covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

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