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Powerful lobbyists help decide who Idaho's next Supreme Court justice will be

Powerful lobbyists help decide who Idaho's next Supreme Court justice will be

by
Wayne Hoffman
October 20, 2023
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October 20, 2023

If you're looking for a stellar example of how totally screwed up Idaho's government is and how special interests not only have a seat at the table but are the table, then feast your eyes on the Idaho Judicial Council, the group that recommends to the governor the names of people to fill court vacancies. 

The council is made up of nine members, four of whom are non-attorneys appointed by the governor. Two of those non-attorneys happen to be lobbyists, because I guess there aren't enough other qualified people in a state with 1.9 million residents. 

These two are not just any lobbyists; they're from the biggest lobbying firms in the state, as measured by influence and number of clients. Phil Reberger registered with the secretary of state's office to represent, as their lobbyist, 28 clients this year. Jason Kreizenbeck registered to lobby for 30 clients. Their clients' interests cover a wide range of issues from local government to health care to big business. 

Jason Kreizenbeck (left) Phil Reberger (right)

Reberger has been on the Judicial Council for 20 years. He was originally appointed by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, for whom Reberger served as chief of staff in both the governor's office and the U.S. Senate. Kreizenbeck was quietly added to the Judicial Council by Gov. Brad Little this summer. Kreizenbeck previously served as Gov. Butch Otter's chief of staff, and he also worked in Gov. Phil Batt’s office and on the campaign for now-U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson. 

And speaking of Simpson, guess who else is on the Judicial Council: Kathy Simpson, Mike Simpson's wife. She's been on the council for 10 years. 

I have no real beef with Kathy Simpson's appointment; it's probably not her fault that her husband's voting record is more aligned with that of leftist Democrats than that of conservative Idahoans. But if we are really honest about it, the only justification that I can see for her being on the council is that she's the congressman's wife. 

The biggest problem is the fact that two major legislative lobbyists are on the Judicial Council, the panel that is currently coming up with names to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. 

Exactly who is being served when lobbyists, who write and lobby for the passage of laws, entertain the question of which judge should get such an important appointment? 

It would be easy enough to say, "Well, these men are people of integrity who have a long history of public service." Maybe that's true, and maybe it isn't. Surely there are other men and women of integrity who are able to serve and who are not legislative lobbyists. 

The raw appearance of it is that Reberger and Kreizenbeck are able to extend their influence beyond the Legislature, beyond the executive branch, and to the very makeup of Idaho’s judicial bench. I bet this is of great value to their clients, but it does little to boost Idahoans’ confidence in an impartial judicial system. 

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