By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
An Ada County judge has dismissed a petition filed against the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare by Attorney General Raúl Labrador, but the investigation into the use of community partner grants continues.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Lynn Norton filed final judgement in the case on Monday, which was the response to a request to set aside the civil investigation demand for Erika Rupp. The cases were dismissed without prejudice, meaning plaintiffs could re-file if they choose.
Rupp is a former employee of IDHW. The Attorney General’s Office filed a petition against her in March, which claimed she played an integral role in the distribution of the Community Partner Grants Program. IDHW responded by filing a lawsuit. Now, both have been dismissed.
The Legislature distributed $72 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to address learning loss for children ages 5-13, but the attorney general’s office claims in court documents that more than $14 million of that money went to ineligible programs.
In August, legislative auditors claimed they found flaws in the grant fund distributions. That audit was unavailable when the request for a civil investigation demand was made by the attorney general in the spring. IDHW disputes any wrongdoing in the audit’s findings.
Adams County Prosecutor Chris Boyd was assigned to the case as a special prosecutor after Norton deemed it a conflict of interest for an in-house attorney to pursue the case. The Attorney General and his deputies are required by Idaho law to defend the state.
On Oct. 6, Boyd wrote to Rupp’s attorneys, stating he would withdraw the civil investigation demand “to conserve state resources” while he determines what documents, if any, he needs to complete the investigation.
“Based on the referral in the audit report, the Attorney General will continue to investigate the Grant Program,” Boyd wrote Oct. 6. “He asked me to act as a Special Deputy Attorney General over the investigation and to make any charging decisions or recommendations where appropriate. He has requested that I continue to keep politics out of the decision-making process. To avoid perceptions of political bias, and to foster public trust in the rule of law in our state, I believe it is appropriate to request the involvement of a neutral and detached magistrate in this investigation.”
Boyd petitioned for the appointment of a special inquiry judge.
On Monday afternoon, IDHW issued the following statement:
“The special prosecutor withdrew the (civil investigation demands) CIDs and indicated that Director Jeppesen and his team are released from their obligation to respond. The Department long maintained the CIDs were legally invalid and an unnecessary expense to the public. That is why the department filed the petition asking the court to set them aside.
“Thus, the department is pleased with the Special Prosecutor’s decision to withdraw the CIDs and hopeful no further court proceedings are required. The department has requested the Attorney General’s office pay the department’s attorney’s fees related to this unnecessary litigation.”
Boyd’s office said he was unavailable for comment on Monday.