BOISE, Idaho — State invoice records show it cost Idaho taxpayers roughly $14,000 for the State Controller’s Office to hire a private law firm to investigate sexual and racial harassment claims against a top employee.
State officials said Thursday the office hired outside attorneys from the Boise law firm Hawley Troxell to prevent any conflicts of interest because the office’s general counsel reported to the supervisor facing the allegations.
“In order to resolve these real or potential conflicts for conducting the investigation internally, and in order to maintain an unbiased and impartial investigation the SCO decided to have the investigation conducted by outside counsel,” said Joshua Whitworth, chief of staff for State Controller Brandon Woolf, in an email.
It was first time the office had hired outside counsel to handle a personnel matter since Woolf took over the post in 2012, Whitworth said.
A former employee in a tort claim filed last week says Woolf’s former chief of staff, Dan Goicoechea (pronounced Goy-ka-CHEE-uh), engaged in abusive language and violent acts in conversations involving her and other individuals.
The tort claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. The state has 90 days to respond.
Woolf has denied accusations that officials condoned the harassment. Instead, the office says it immediately hired a private law firm to investigate the allegations.
The state redacted the legal services provided by Hawley Troxell when handing over the firm’s invoices. The state also declined to comment how many other, if any, complaints and investigations had been filed against Goicoechea, saying that those types of records are exempt from Idaho’s public records law.
Goicoechea resigned after the investigation was completed. He was soon hired to become deputy for governmental affairs for the Idaho State Department of Education. He resigned from that post the same day the tort claim was filed.
“I do not know what the goal of the investigation was,” Rory Jones, Goicoechea’s attorney, told the Idaho Statesman, on Friday. “It clearly wasn’t to determine all of the facts. Until somebody talks to those witnesses, the other side of the picture will not be painted.”
Jones added that his client will not be able to respond to the allegations directly because the tort claim was made against the state, not Goicoechea. However, Goicoechea will be able to serve as a witness in a possible lawsuit.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra has repeatedly declined to comment on Goicoechea’s resignation, citing it’s a confidential personnel matter. It’s unknown if she knew Goicoechea was recently under investigation before hiring him.
The State Controller’s Office has also declined to say if it told the superintendent’s office about the Goicoechea investigation.