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IDHW files suit to stop Idaho Attorney General from pushing civil investigative demands onto childcare funding

The AG's office already told IDHW they didn't violate any state or federal law months ago, but the AG disagrees.

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) is suing the Idaho Attorney General's Office over the AG's investigative demands into childcare grant funding.

The suit, filed Thursday in Ada County, asks the court to set aside the investigative demands from the office. The suit was first reported by Boise State Public Radio.

Attorney General Raúl Labrador launched the investigation to see if the childcare grants from the IDHW Community Partner Grant program, which was created through the federal American Rescue Plan Act, were being distributed correctly. The grants were to help with learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The AG's office served Civil Investigative Demands (CID) to IDHW over the matter, demanding IDHW turn over all documents and information about the Community Partner Grant program.

But, the AG's office had already told IDHW they didn't violate federal guidelines. 

In a redacted legal memorandum from January of this year included in the lawsuit from the AG's office, the office wrote, "In brief, Self-Reliance’s processing of community grants raises no concerns of statutory violations."

Another memorandum from November of 2022, when former Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was in office, states IDHW didn't violate any guidelines, either. 

In essence, IDHW came to the AG's office about childcare grants and asked for a legal analysis to see if it violates Idaho law. 

The office said the American Rescue Plan Act adheres to federal guidance, and the department's implementation of the grant program does not violate state and federal law.

However, the AG's office says the January memorandum was issued with no new analysis. 

"The only difference between the two opinions was that the November opinion excluded reference to one former DHW employee and was placed on letterhead with AG Labrador’s name at the top. Attorney General Labrador was never apprised of or consulted about this opinion, and he wouldn’t have signed it," the office wrote in an email to KTVB.

The office said IDHW fails to tell the story of "constantly shifting position on the grants."

"The Director told members of (the legislature) that the money had been incorrectly distributed. The Director’s shifting accounts alone provide ample evidence support for AG Labrador’s belief that there may be an unlawful disbursement of charitable assets in violation of Idaho law," the AG's office wrote.

IDHW says Labrador had no probable cause to even issue any CIDs at all. IDHW also holds steadfast in the documents that they did not misuse or misappropriate any of the grant money. 

Even so, the AG's office is required to represent state agencies in court by state law, and that develops a conflict of interest, the lawsuit said. 

IDHW claims because of this, Labrador has no authority to push CIDs on his own clients.

In an email to IDHW staff, Director Dave Jeppesen wrote, "The demand included records related to the grants and personal information about employees who worked on the grants, including things like what charitable organizations those employees are part of or donate to."

"I have a duty to the people of Idaho and to you, the employees of DHW. You work hard and are committed to serving our fellow Idahoans. It is unacceptable for anyone, including the Attorney General, to demand that I divulge personal information including where some of you choose to donate time and money."

This isn't the first lawsuit in relation to the CIDs, however -- just last week, 35 different organizations who received the childcare grants filed a lawsuit against the AG's office over the demands Labrador issued from them.

"We applied for a grant through the state to support our students. We received the grant and were told we had complied with all the requirements. We've never experienced anything like this. The Attorney General's actions have caused a huge distraction for our staff and an undue burden for people who are trying to deliver education to the students of Marsing," said Norm Stewart, superintendent of Marsing Schools, in a press release.

"Our [civil investigative demands] were issued to obtain facts about what happened and to determine whether state law was followed," The AG's office wrote KTVB in an email two weeks prior. "Our goal here is to provide full transparency to the people of Idaho.”

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