By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
Attorney General Raúl Labrador is accusing the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare of improperly deleting data from a phone issued to a former deputy attorney general. The department acknowledges it wiped the device, but says it did nothing wrong.
In two new filings in Children’s Home Network of Idaho et al v Labrador, the attorney general’s office states that Chief Deputy Attorney General for the Department of Health and Welfare Chelsea Kidney resigned from her position a day after news broke of a conflict between the Attorney General’s Office and DHW over how the department awarded community grants.
As first reported by the Idaho Statesman, Kidney wrote two opinions, including one in January with Labrador’s name on top of the letter, advising DHW it could give community grants to organizations that serve children ages 0-4 as long as they also served children between the ages of 5-13. As Idaho Reports wrote last week, the 2021 Legislature approved the grant program intending the money to go to school-age children. Earlier this month, Labrador issued civil investigative demands to all recipients of the grants over the last two years, as well as DHW Director Dave Jeppesen and two DHW employees.
According to the latest filings in the civil court case between Labrador and 35 of the organizations who received the CIDs, the attorney general’s office instructed Kidney to hand over all state property, including her work phone, and to retain all data after she resigned.
According to the filing, Kidney instead gave her work-issued phone to another deputy attorney general in the division, who delivered the phone to DHW on Saturday despite receiving the same instructions.
On Monday, staff for the attorney general went to DHW to retrieve the phone. “After some delay, the Department handed over the phone,” the filing states. “All the data had been deleted from the phone—it was wiped clean and restored to its factory settings.”
In a statement to Idaho Reports, Associate Attorney General Mitch Toryanski said Jeppesen’s executive assistant was in possession of the phone immediately before returning it to the attorney general’s staff.
“Following (Kidney’s) resignation, the Attorney General’s office instructed the data from her Attorney General issued phone be preserved,” Toryanski said. “After receiving this instruction, the phone was delivered to IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen’s executive assistant. When the phone was retrieved by the Attorney General’s Office, it had been reset to factory settings and all data erased.”
DHW public information manager Niki Forbing-Orr confirmed the department had wiped the phone. Forbing-Orr said the attorney general had not yet formally asked for the data from the phone it had retained.
“It’s standard procedure to wipe the business phones of state employees who no longer work for the department,” Forbing-Orr wrote in a statement to Idaho Reports, saying DHW is legally responsible for protecting confidential data. “The department has imaged the phone, and the records from the phone were retained. The data belongs to the department, and since the AG’s office has created a conflict by taking an action against the department, they are not entitled to the data from the phone.”
Both Toryanski and Forbing-Orr’s full statements, as well as the court filings, are below.
Statement from Associate Attorney General Mitch Toryanski:
“The Office of Attorney General is investigating the possible misappropriation of public monies in violation of the Idaho Charitable Assets Protection Act and Idaho Charitable Solicitation Act. Under these statutes, the Attorney General has wide discretion to investigate illegal expenditure and/or misappropriation of public funds. The AG’s office issued CID’s to various entities to ensure relevant information and any important data was preserved and not destroyed in this investigation.
“After the funds were awarded, Attorney General Wasden’s office issued an opinion in November 2022 incorrectly concluding that these funds were disbursed appropriately. The same opinion was again issued on January 25th on AG Labrador’s letterhead despite no new facts and without any new analysis. Attorney General Labrador was never apprised of or consulted in the formulation of this opinion and he wouldn’t have signed it. Those opinions were legally deficient and the Attorney General rescinded them.
“The division chief who oversaw the release of this opinion resigned Friday morning. Following this resignation, the Attorney General’s office instructed the data from her Attorney General issued phone be preserved. After receiving this instruction, the phone was delivered to IDHW Director Dave Jeppesen’s executive assistant. When the phone was retrieved by the Attorney General’s Office, it had been reset to factory settings and all data erased.”
Statement from Niki Forbing-Orr, public information manager, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare:
“It’s standard procedure to wipe the business phones of state employees who no longer work for the department. DHW’s IT division handles that. DHW has a lot of confidential information and is legally and ethically responsible for protecting that information. The department has imaged the phone, and the records from the phone were retained. The data belongs to the department, and since the AG’s office has created a conflict by taking an action against the department, they are not entitled to the data from the phone.”