The Idaho Supreme Court sided with a district judge Tuesday, voiding the contract for the Idaho Education Network broadband project.
The court’s unanimous ruling could have $25 million worth of implications for the state — and its taxpayers. Idaho could be forced to write off or give back federally administered fees that were supposed to offset the costs of the high school Internet system.
Idaho’s loss on appeal should not have any immediate impact on schools, however. The state mothballed the Idaho Education Network in early 2015, after Ada County District Judge Patrick Owen tossed the $60 million project contract. Since then, Idaho schools have purchased high-speed Internet service locally, often at greatly reduced prices.
Tuesday’s ruling was the latest chapter in a seven-year legal battle involving the state’s hired attorneys; broadband network vendors Education Networks of America and Qwest Communications; and Syringa Networks, an Internet vendor that sued over the project’s contract. Syringa argued that the state had illegally rewritten the network contract in February 2009 — making ENA and Qwest into partners, and effectively cutting out the competition.
Writing on behalf of the court, Chief Justice Jim Jones sharply criticized Mike Gwartney — the former head of the state Department of Administration, and a longtime confidante of Gov. Butch Otter. He also criticized the state for continuing to pursue the case.
“Rather than recognizing that the actions of former director Gwartney corrupted the procurement process, DOA doggedly defended that process to the bitter end,” Jones wrote in a 27-page opinion.
Otter’s office is reviewing Tuesday’s ruling and had no comment, spokesman Jon Hanian said.