Members of Idaho’s House Ethics and Policy Committee have weaponized themselves. This is the perspective of multiple Idaho legislators who observed the Ethics Committee making up their own rules in their self-described mission to “clean the nest.” At least one legislator believes it’s time the actions of the committee be exposed.
Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Dist.9) has been in the House since 2009. Having previously served on the Ethics Committee, she is well-aware of how the committee is supposed to operate. “During the (Aaron) von Ehlinger hearing, the ethics committee weaponized themselves by making up their own rules,” Boyle says. House Rule 45 cannot be changed without a two-thirds vote of the House, but they made up rules as they went.”
House Rule 45 delineates the procedures that must be followed when a House member is suspected of committing an ethics violation. “The von Ehlinger hearing proved that Rule 45 is full of holes,” Boyle said. “They do not have the authority to tell someone they can’t use their Fifth Amendment rights. We should not allow any more ethics investigations moving forward until this rule is clarified.”
A short list of ethical violations committed by the Ethics Committee includes:
- The Ethics Committee conducted a public hearing of evidence regarding a House member at the same time the Boise Police were openly investigating the same matter.
- A member of the Ethics Committee allegedly stated that the accused was guilty and would be expelled – before hearing all the evidence.
- The Ethics Committee demanded that a U.S. citizen revoke his Fifth Amendment rights.
- The Ethics Committee recommended expulsion of a House member because that Representative exercised his Fifth Amendment rights.
- The Ethics Committee involved two attorneys from the Attorney General’s office in the “prosecution” of von Ehlinger – thus involving the Executive Branch of government in internal House affairs, which the AG’s office has previously stated they are not allowed to do.
- The Ethics Committee gave itself permission to change hearing rules on the fly and exercised that self-granted privilege during the hearing.
- The Ethics Committee demanded to know, ahead of the hearing, who the “defense” was going to call as witnesses and what their testimony was going to be about. Then, during the hearing, they refused to allow testimony that would have been damaging to the “prosecution.”
It’s Like Rule 45 Didn’t Exist
Rules created by the Committee for the hearing were so far out of line with House Rule 45, von Ehlinger’s attorney, Edward Dindinger, wrote a five-page letter to the Committee, formally objecting to their arbitrary rules. The Committee changed nothing.
This writer reached out to Dindinger for comment. While not accusing the Committee of unethical behavior, one example of the Committee’s questionable behavior described by Dindinger had to do with prejudice and bias. “Representative Crane had it out for von Ehlinger from the beginning,” Dindinger said. “That is one of the issues we brought up before the hearing. We objected to his participation because of his open statement to expel [von Ehlinger] before the hearing occurred. That meant he had an obvious problem with bias. We asked that Crane not participate and that an alternate take his place. The Committee denied our request.”
Rep. Boyle said the Ethics Committee sought to expel von Ehlinger for conduct unbecoming of a House member, but pointed out that the phrase is not defined. “(Representative Jason) Monks contradicted himself during his deposition. He said he didn’t know ‘Jane Doe’ was back, but also said he saw her in the hall. Couldn’t that be conduct unbecoming? I see legislators jaywalking all the time. I see Scott Bedke yelling at and retaliating against anyone who did not vote for him to be Speaker or dared to run against him. I see legislators out in public getting drunk with lobbyists. Couldn’t those actions be conduct unbecoming?”
This writer also reached out to former CBS 2 News reporter Emri Moore, who was also mangled within this hearing. Moore said, “I rewatched the ethics hearing on video. Overall, I gathered this committee just makes up rules as they go. You would expect that as lawmakers they would have written and established guidelines to follow. This hearing painted a masterpiece of how the ethics committee operates, which is unconventional and unprincipled.”
Violating the Public’s Trust
Rep. Boyle says she is also “disgusted that the Committee violated the public trust. They claimed [their findings against von Ehlinger] was censure, but the effect of what they did was total expulsion, which is what they wanted, but knew they couldn’t get the votes for that.”
Boyle continued, “The Idaho Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the members for expulsion and the Committee knew that they weren’t going to get two thirds of the House to vote for that. They played fast and loose with the rules – and the Constitution.”
Boyle stated there is no way to bring the Ethics Committee up on ethics charges, and that needs to change. “There were rumors among House members that someone filed an ethics complaint against (Rep. Brent) Crane for saying von Ehlinger was guilty and he would see that he was expelled, even before hearing the evidence. But naturally, that didn’t go anywhere.”
Additionally, there’s the matter of leaks coming from the Ethics Committee, which is also unethical and a violation of Rule 45. Those leaks are being used to create negative press about another member of the House. Two news outlets have published statements from the self-described “anti-extremist” group, the 97%, who claim to have knowledge of (and are publicly applauding) ethics charges that are allegedly in the works against another House member.
“Ethics charges are supposed to be confidential,” Boyle said. “The person being accused of something isn’t even supposed to know an accusation has been made, and our procedures state that all accusations are to remain completely confidential until a formal charge is announced. So either a member of the Ethics Committee or the House member who filed the complaint are leaking information to this 97% group.”
Ethics Committee Weaponized
Boyle says the von Ehlinger hearing created a horrible precedent and set the stage for the Committee to remove or destroy anyone they wanted. She also said she is not alone in that assessment. “When the Committee announced their recommendations the morning of April 29, I was sitting in the Lincoln Room with another legislator,” Boyle said. “When they finished, I leaned over to the other legislator and said, ‘I cannot believe this. We just allowed the Ethics Committee to be weaponized.’”
Boyle said the legislator sitting next to her, who did not give permission to be named, responded by saying, “Now they can go after anybody.”
After the hearing was over, Boyle confronted Rep. Sage Dixon, Chair of the House Ethics and Policy Committee, saying, “What are you doing conducting a public hearing when there’s an open police investigation going on? You know what you did was wrong!”
Boyle says Dixon hung his head and mumbled what she thought was a lame excuse. According to Boyle, Dixon said, “We were pretty far down the path and we thought we should continue.”
Boyle fears for what might become of the Ethics Committee. “Is the Ethics Committee going to become the McCarthy Committee and penalize anybody they don’t like with anything they want? I wouldn’t be surprised if someone files ethics charges against me for talking to the press about what’s wrong with the Ethics Committee, but that will only validate my point that the Ethics Committee has been weaponized.”
Timeline of Events in the von Ehlinger Hearing
By way of review, the following timeline shines a light on just a few of the ways that members of the House Ethics committee themselves acted unethically during the von Ehlinger case.
March 9 – Then Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger and “Jane Doe” had a date that ended up with the two of them at von Ehlinger’s apartment. Acts of a sexual nature take place at von Ehlinger’s apartment.
NOTE: This writer is referring to the woman as “Jane Doe” even though her name was released to the press in April by von Ehlinger’s second attorney, former Idaho Attorney General and former Lt. Governor, David Leroy.
March 11: Jane Doe approaches the Assistant Sergeant at Arms of the House and claims the act was not consensual. The matter is referred to House Speaker, Scott Bedke (R-Dist. 27). Boise Police open an investigation.
March 16: Boise Police drop the investigation, and conflicting stories exist as to why. Boise Police Spokesperson Hailey Williams told this writer that the investigation was dropped because there weren’t enough elements to proceed; however, in the ethics investigation request signed by House Majority Leadership on March 17, House Majority Leadership stated that a person requested the investigation be dropped. In the version of the complaint made available to the public, that person’s name is redacted.
It should be noted that in the letter, the blacked-out/redacted name is the same length as where it is obvious that Jane Doe’s real name is also blacked out. For the record, it is common practice that if an alleged victim asks that a case be dropped, the police will drop the investigation. A retired police officer who wished not to be associated with this story told this writer that, “Without an accuser, you don’t have a victim or a witness. Therefore, there is no case to prosecute.”
March 17: All four members of House Majority Leadership, Scott Bedke, Mike Moyle (R-Dist. 14), Jason Monks (R-Dist. 22) and Megan Blanksma (R-Dist. 23) sign an ethics complaint against Rep. von Ehlinger. Rep. Boyle says that a complaint signed by all four members of House Majority Leadership is unprecedented in itself, but the letter includes a key sentence pointing to unethical action forthcoming from the Ethics Committee.
The letter from Bedke, Moyle, Monks, and Blanksma says, “On March 16, House Majority Leadership was informed that the law enforcement investigation would not be moving forward at the request of [redacted].” The letter then says, “Now that we will no longer be interfering with an ongoing investigation, we feel compelled to bring this complaint before the Ethics and House Policy Committee.” (Emphasis added)
In other words, when Boise Police had an open investigation regarding Rep. von Ehlinger, it was unethical to have a concurrent ethics investigation. But since Boise PD dropped their investigation, House Majority Leadership filed their complaint and pushed for a House ethics violation.
Unknown Date: Rep. von Ehlinger’s first attorney in the Ethics Investigation, Scott McKay, is called to the Attorney General’s office to meet with Ethics Committee Chairman Sage Dixon (R-Dist.1) and Ethics Committee member Brent Crane (R-Dist.11). Crane allegedly tells McKay, “I’m the third most powerful person in this House, and I will see he [von Ehlinger] is expelled. He doesn’t have a chance.”
After McKay’s meeting with Dixon and Crane at the AG’s office, McKay wants another $25,000 from von Ehlinger to continue the case.
Unknown Dates: Rep. von Ehlinger cannot afford McKay’s fee request, so they parts ways, and von Ehlinger secures the services of attorney David Leroy, a former Idaho Attorney General (1979-1983) and a former Idaho Lt. Governor (1983-1987). Leroy stresses to von Ehlinger that he should not resign.
On the day legislators are informed about the formal investigation of Rep. von Ehlinger, and with no ongoing police investigation, Leroy releases statements to the media that include the real name of Jane Doe.
Lawyers for Jane Doe then tell Leroy that they will sue him for releasing her name unless he stops representing von Ehlinger. Leroy informs von Ehlinger he will no longer represent him. Edward Dindinger is retained as von Ehlinger’s third attorney.
April 16: Boise Police re-open their investigation of what happened at von Ehlinger’s apartment the evening of March 9.
NOTE: Boise Police spokesperson told this writer the reason for reopening the investigation was because, “elements necessary to continue” were present. Despite Boise Police re-opening their investigation, the House Ethics and Policy Committee does not stop their investigation.
NOTE: Rep. Judy Boyle tells this writer that when the Police reopened their investigation, the Ethics Committee should have put their investigation on hold.
April 20: Four days after the police re-open their investigation, Sage Dixon, Chair of the House Ethics and Policy Committee, releases a letter outlining the rules they will use during the hearing that will occur on April 28. Rep. Crane states the committee’s hearing will last only one day. One of the rules is that von Ehlinger will be compelled to answer all questions demanded of him, and his failure to do so will be a violation of House Rules, which means the Committee would recommend he be expelled from the House for violating House Rules.
NOTE: The right to revoke von Ehlinger’s Fifth Amendment right to not testify against himself does not exist in House Rule 45. Rep. Boyle says that with an open police investigation in progress, this is a flagrant violation of von Ehlinger’s Constitutional rights.
April 28: The hearing occurs as scheduled. The “prosecution” consists of five attorneys. Two attorneys from women’s rights organizations, two attorneys from Idaho’s attorney general’s office, and one attorney from Holland & Hart, LLP, paid for with Idahoan’s tax money allocated to the House legal fund. Holland & Hart is Speaker Scott Bedke’s favorite “go-to” law office.
NOTE: Rep. Boyle points out that the attorneys from the State Attorney General’s office are part of the executive branch of government, and they had no business participating in a legislative branch ethics hearing. “Why was the Attorney General’s office prosecuting this? House affairs is not the business of the Executive Branch. They should not have been involved at all,” Boyle said. “If the Attorney General wanted to prosecute von Ehlinger, there are different avenues to do that – but NOT through the Ethics Committee.”
Boyle’s statement aligns with a 2016 statement from the Attorney General’s office, when it was discovered that State Senator Jim Guthrie and then-State Representative Christy Perry were found to be having an affair. Their affair was a clear violation of both state law as well as House and Senate Ethics rules, but he Attorney General’s office stated it did not have the authority to investigate legislators. Also, no charges of ethics violations were ever filed against either Guthrie or Perry.
NOTE: Rep. Boyle says von Ehlinger was “not part of [House Speaker] Bedke’s camp because he (von Ehlinger) often voted with conservatives.” Boyle also stated that in 2017, Bedke made then-Representative Christy Perry a committee chair, even after her affair was made public. “She was in Bedke’s camp,” Boyle said.
During the hearing, the Ethics Committee often prevents attorney Dindinger from calling witnesses or presenting evidence. For example, von Ehlinger took three separate lie detector tests, passing all three. A total of nine questions were asked, but the Committee allows only two of the nine questions to be presented.
Witnesses such as Representative Boyle are not allowed to testify at all. Boyle’s testimony was going to be that she heard Speaker Scott Bedke telling legislators to stay away from ‘Jane Doe’ because she was “trouble.”
The committee keeps changing rules during the hearing and denying Dindinger the right to present evidence. At one point, Dindinger raises his hands in the air and complains out loud that he is unable to present a defense.
April 29: Because von Ehlinger’s lawyer instructed his client to not testify against himself, saying no lawyer would ever advise a client to do so, the Ethics Committee votes unanimously to recommend von Ehlinger be expelled. They also vote for censure and suspend him for the remainder of his term without pay. Many legislators realize the Ethics Committee operated outside the bounds of Rule 45 and the Idaho Constitution and do not want to vote for expulsion, but they realize the media is ruthless in spinning the facts. So that his colleagues will not be maligned by the media, von Ehlinger resigns his seat.
In a phone call, Dindinger told this writer, “In addition to the Committee not allowing me to present a defense, the biggest travesty was the Committee throwing out the standard of proof needed to recommend expulsion.”
Rep. Judy Boyle says she thinks it’s time the Ethics rule gets cleaned up. “There should be no further Ethics investigations until we can get Rule 45 corrected,” she says. “What we witnessed shows it is not a workable rule for a case like this. People should not be guilty until proven innocent – and should be allowed to present a full defense. Unfortunately, for Representative von Ehlinger, it’s too late. His public trial showed the major flaws in the House Ethics Rule.”
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