The story you are about to read is nowhere near the story that it started out to be. In anticipation of Tuesday's election, Boise Weekly set out to write an engaging, but somewhat pedestrian, overview of the race for Idaho 4th Judicial District Court. When Judge Mike Wetherell announced that he would be retiring at the end of this year, it opened the door to a rare opportunity for the public to consider four candidates in the May 20 primary election. But none of the four emerged with more than 50 percent of the vote, thus setting up a run-off between Rebecca Arnold, an Ada County Highway District commissioner and corporate attorney with Boise-based W.H. Moore Company, and Sam Hoagland, a 32-year veteran Idaho trial attorney.
BW asked to sit down with both candidates and Hoagland complied, telling us how he's practiced nearly every type of litigation—contracts, employment, estates, custody, probate—and made thousands of court appearances in district, appeals and even the Idaho State Supreme Court.
Speaking with Rebecca Arnold was a different matter altogether. Beginning on Oct. 3, BW made multiple requests to talk with Arnold. At first, she agreed to a conversation. Then she changed her mind. Then she agreed again. Then she insisted that questions be submitted in advance. Then she said her professional and political schedule couldn't accommodate our request. We tried to access Arnold at a candidate forum at the Idaho State Bar, but Arnold was a last-minute no-show.
Most importantly, as time was passing, our questions for Arnold continued to grow, particularly concerning a group of public and private citizens from the city of Stanley who are desperate to see Arnold lose Tuesday's election (more on that in a bit). Finally, in a flurry of emails between BW and Arnold—some of which were rather testy—the candidate agreed to a sit-down, but only hours before our deadline. To her credit, Arnold answered all of our questions; but it became apparent that Arnold herself had become the No. 1 issue for the campaign.
"My opponent might have thought she was walking into the lion's den," said Hoagland at the Oct. 17 candidate forum at the Idaho State Bar Association. "This was the closest opportunity where we would appear side-by-side."
When BW asked ISB Litigation Chairman Howard Belodoff about Arnold's no-show, he confirmed that she had accepted but, "She did question how the open meeting law applied. I wanted to let her know that anyone could attend and that included the press."
"Is she avoiding you?" Mahmood Sheikh, ISB deputy executive director, asked Boise Weekly.
Arnold insisted that she wasn't avoiding us and had been "unavoidably" detained. Nonetheless, questions for Arnold were accumulating.
"I had a question or two," said Boise attorney Jim Harris. "First of all, I would have like to have heard her explanation for her DUI arrest."
Harris was referring to a 2000 incident in which Arnold was charged with suspicion of driving under the influence.
"It was 14 years ago," Arnold said in a last-minute meeting with BW at a Shari's restaurant. "I don't think it's particularly relevant. I pleaded guilty to inattentive driving to save time and significant expense. I had two physicians prepared to testify on my behalf and I, for the past 14 years, have wished that I had gone to trial."
Arnold said she has never interacted professionally with Harris, but insisted that he was a supporter of Hoagland's campaign.
The DUI was far down our list of questions when we finally met Arnold. We were more curious about her tangles with Stanley officials.
"She tried to pull the wool over the eyes of a small Idaho town," said Hannah Stauts. "I'm here to tell you that she's very disrespectful."
Stauts, who was 22 years old when she was elected to a four-year term as mayor of Stanley in 2006 (the youngest mayor in Idaho history), told BW that she went "toe-to-toe" with Arnold on multiple occasions. Stauts said Arnold has sued the city of Stanley on multiple occasions over disputes involving land development.
"Stanley's legal bills are close to $186,000," said Stauts, pointing to a rather stunning page on the official Stanley city website that chronicles its legal tangles with Arnold. "She has a history of being very harassing. I don't have a dog in this fight, but I get riled up because a community I love is too afraid to stand up to her."
But Staut's' claim not to have a "dog in the fight" may not be entirely true. She created Concerned Citizens of Stanley and has paid for campaign ads that read, "Citizens: We urge you to vote against Rebecca Arnold," without mentioning Arnold's opponent once. For the record, the Custer County city of Stanley doesn't even sit inside the 4th Judicial District.
Arnold couldn't disagree more with what she calls Stauts' "version of the truth."
"I've been in public office for 10 years," said the three-term ACHD commissioner. "You make enemies if you're standing up for what you believe in. There are always going to be people who don't like you because you take a strong position. Some people are just vindictive. I don't like controversy. But I refuse to run away from it."
BW also quizzed Arnold on several other issues, including a past wrongful termination against Albertsons, her former employer ("It was settled," she said) and the ISB survey of candidates, which gave her an overall average score of 1.84 (versus Hoagland's 3.6) out of a possible 4 points ("I don't think we should allow our judicial elections to be decided by a small group of attorneys who are hiding behind a cloak of anonymity," she said).
But again, for the record, Arnold did answer our questions. Finally.