A scheduled December trial over former Boise City Council Member Lisa Sánchez’s efforts to regain her council seat has been canceled after a judge ruled against her.
The months-long legal battle pitted a former council member, represented by a former U.S. attorney, against the city Sánchez was elected to serve in after the North End resident moved to a new apartment outside of her district.
Here’s a rundown of this week’s ruling.
What did the judge rule?
In a Tuesday ruling, Ada County District Judge Derrick O’Neill decided Idaho law is clear on requiring elected representatives to remain in their districts.
Sánchez was elected in 2021 to represent District 3, which covered the North End and Northwest Boise. In January, she moved to a new apartment a few blocks outside of her district boundary after her lease was not renewed.
“While the court fully appreciates the fact that (Sanchez’s) mistake was likely unintentional, it does appear (she) understood, at the time she learned her original lease would not be renewed, that she needed to reside in District 3,” O’Neill wrote. “She was not unlawfully removed nor was she deprived of any due process.”
Why didn’t the case go to trial?
In early July, O’Neill scheduled a trial for December after Sánchez’s attorney, Wendy Olsen, asked for an expedited schedule. Olsen claimed Sánchez had been unlawfully removed from her council seat and asked the court to reinstate her. The term Sánchez was elected to in 2021 is set to end in January.
Later that month, Boise’s attorney, Dan Williams, asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the facts of what happened were clear, and that how the law applied to them could be interpreted without a trial.
Olsen disagreed, arguing that Boise took “affirmative action,” was ignoring some of the facts of the case and was misinterpreting the law.
O’Neill said Williams was correct.
What were Sánchez’s original claims?
Olsen argued in court filings that Sánchez had always intended to remain in District 3 while she served out the term she was elected to. She said she talked to city staff about addresses she was considering moving to in an effort to make sure they were within the correct boundaries.
While Sánchez was elected to District 3 in 2021, the council boundaries were redrawn last year by a commission, which slightly changed the boundaries of the district that covers most of the North End and renamed it District 6.
Sánchez thought that both districts — both of which she had voted to approve — had the same boundaries, Olsen wrote. That was incorrect.
Olsen also argued that the city never explained its legal conclusion that Sánchez had lost her seat.
Sánchez applied to be reappointed when Mayor Lauren McLean took applications for the seat in February. McLean later appointed Latonia Haney Keith, the board chair of Boise’s urban renewal agency, to fill the seat.
At the time, a majority of council members told the Statesman they either would not vote to reappoint Sánchez or had reservations about doing so. Council Member Patrick Bageant said Sánchez had “honesty and integrity issues,” pointing to a controversy over her unusual campaign expenditures. A review by the Ada County Elections Office found her expenses complied with Idaho law.
McLean later indicated that the lack of sufficient votes on the council influenced her decision not to appoint Sánchez, telling the Statesman that she ultimately “made the decision to appoint someone that could jump in and get the job done and be approved by City Council because the City Council must approve those positions.”
Why did the judge say they were wrong?
In his ruling, O’Neill noted that his responsibility was to determine whether the city’s claims sufficiently showed that “there are no genuine issues of material fact and the case can be decided as (a) matter of law.”
“The salient facts are largely undisputed,” he wrote.
Williams, Boise’s attorney, argued that an Idaho statute says that officials who “cease” to be a resident of the area they were elected to automatically lose their seats.
“The court agrees,” O’Neill wrote. “The intention of the statute is clearly to require an elected official to maintain residency within the boundaries of the geographic area to which they were elected a representative.”
BoiseDev first reported on O’Neill’s ruling.
What happens now?
Olsen said Sánchez is “extremely disappointed” by the decision and is considering an appeal.
“It is ironic that Lisa Sanchez fought so hard to keep her seat, serve out the term to which she was elected, and honor the voters of District 3 and is unable to do so, but two other former council members simply quit mid-term to pursue other options,” Olsen said in an email.
Longtime Council President Elaine Clegg left her seat earlier this year to become the leader of the local public transit agency. Former Council President Holli Woodings left this summer to move to Washington, D.C.
A spokesperson for McLean, Maria Weeg, declined to comment.
Is Sánchez running again?
In early August, Sánchez announced she would not seek reelection because she took a new job with the federal government. U.S. law limits the political activities of federal employees, and a campaign spokesperson told the Statesman that Sánchez had been advised that seeking office could run afoul of those rules.
Sánchez’s new job is a fellowship with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.