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Supreme Court swipes at ag department

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The Idaho Supreme Court offered a legal smackdown to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture this week, telling the state agency it couldn't hide records filed by feedlot managers that citizens might want to review. The suit was brought by the Idaho Conservation League and joined by the ACLU of Idaho.

Of course, the Ag department was following the law mandated by the Idaho Legislature, which in 2005 made changes to the Beef Cattle Act to allow the agency to offload "nutrient management plans back to the feedlot managers.

"These things are very important public documents, so people can protect their public health and clean water," said Justin Hayes, a spokesman for the Idaho Conservation League. "This was potentially the opening of an ever-expanding loophole in the open records law."

Wayne Hoffman, a spokesman for the state Agriculture Department, said the agency was still reviewing the ruling.

"The Legislature sets the policy that the department has to follow," Hoffman said.

In their arguments before the court, the agency stated that because its staff had remanded some of the feedlot management plans back to ranch operators, they no longer had possession and were not therefore subject to open records requests.

In writing the ruling for the 3-2 majority on the court, Justice Linda Copple-Trout wrote, "This argument is so disjointed as to not even qualify as circular."

The decision was in response to an appeal the agency filed after a district court ruled in favor of the conservation group.