A lawsuit filed against a North Idaho lawmaker alleges she illegally withheld public records that involve Aaron von Ehlinger, a former state legislator who is accused of rape.
Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a White Bird Republican running for lieutenant governor, shared the lawsuit filed against her in a campaign newsletter Thursday. The complaint was filed by Erika Birch, an attorney representing the former legislative intern who accused von Ehlinger of rape.
Birch made several requests for communications between Giddings and von Ehlinger and alleged that Giddings either denied or ignored those requests, according to court documents obtained by the Idaho Statesman.
In her newsletter, Giddings denied that the records exist and said the lawsuit from the Boise attorney is politically motivated.
Giddings defends von Ehlinger in ethics hearing
Von Ehlinger, a Lewiston Republican, resigned from his seat in April after an ethics panel unanimously recommended his expulsion.
Leading up to the ethics hearing, Giddings defended von Ehlinger. She also shared an article from conservative news site Redoubt News that identified the legislative intern, who was kept anonymous throughout the ethics hearing and known only as Jane Doe. Fellow House members later censured and stripped Giddings of a committee assignment, in part for sharing the article.
In September, Birch filed a tort claim against the Idaho Legislature that pointed to Giddings’ actions and alleged, among other things, that von Ehlinger, Leroy and Giddings defamed Doe by publicizing false information about her.
Neither Birch nor Giddings immediately responded to requests for comment from the Statesman. In her newsletter, Giddings called the legal petition a “nuisance lawsuit” and an attempt by the “Boise Swamp” to “bog down our campaign.”
“They will do anything in their power to drag our state towards leftism, even if that means finding a way to censor and even sue anyone who stands up for the people,” Giddings said.
Records requests denied or ignored, lawsuit says
The lawsuit comes after several attempts by Birch to obtain copies of written and electronic communications between Giddings and von Ehlinger regarding Doe, according to court records.
On Aug. 19, Birch requested copies of written or electronic communication between Giddings and von Ehlinger and communications between Giddings and David Leroy, who previously represented von Ehlinger. Birch asked for records of conversations that mention Jane Doe, her identity and the hearing.
Two days later, Giddings told Birch by email that her office “does not have any public record related to your request that isn’t already public.” Giddings wrote that her office considered the records request closed.
Birch sent two follow-up emails, on Aug. 23 and Dec. 17, noting Giddings’ obligation to provide the records or state the statutory reasons for denying the request, per Idaho law.
“We would like to avoid initiating a lawsuit to compel the production of the public documents requested,” Birch said by email.
Giddings did not respond to the follow-up emails, and Birch filed the lawsuit on Jan. 7.
The following week, a court representative served Giddings summons to respond to the lawsuit within 30 days. As of Friday, Giddings had not responded to the summons.
Giddings is the second Idaho official to face a public records lawsuit in less than a year. In July, Republican Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin lost a court challenge from the Idaho Press Club after McGeachin’s office withheld complete public records to reporters.
Giddings censured for actions on von Ehlinger hearing
In November, the Idaho House censured Giddings for sharing an web article that identified von Ehlinger’s accuser. Before von Ehlinger’s April hearing, the ethics committee requested that the legislative intern maintain anonymity.
As punishment, House members also removed Giddings from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which oversees laws around state employees.
Von Ehlinger in November pleaded not guilty to two felonies: rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object. Von Ehlinger’s next court date is scheduled for April 11.