Boise is often seen as Idaho’s center. That is understandable in that it is Idaho’s largest city, the state’s capital and an economic powerhouse.
But, East Idaho may be the origin of the most interesting Idaho stories recently.
First on the plate was the rock ‘em, sock ‘em fight between Idaho’s richest person and two Idaho Falls attorneys and their law firm and their chief client, Medical Recovery Services (MRS).
Bryan Smith is one of the two attorneys and is a vice chair of the Idaho Republican Party who, rumor has it, wants to fill the current vacancy of chairman. He also was the chief attorney on the unsuccessful efforts to repeal the sales tax on food and overturn Medicaid expansion. He is associated with the Idaho Freedom Foundation and hard right activist Doyle Beck. In 2012, he disclosed that he was an owner of MRS, an Idaho Falls-based medical collection outfit that sues nearly 2,000 Idahoans a year. His current ownership is unknown in that he refuses to specify it. MRS is known for garnishing up to 25% of debtor’s wages, forcing many into bankruptcy.
Bryan Zollinger works for Smith’s law firm, is a state representative, and is usually the lead attorney on MRS collection lawsuits. He also was a leader in trying to restrict Medicaid expansion in this year’s legislative session.
The deep-pocket businessman opposing both is billionaire Frank VanderSloot. His company, Melaleuca, had an employee who was sued for $294 by MRS for a medical bill. MRS is attempting to add $5,864.25 in attorney fees and costs to that figure.
East Idaho News, an outlet originally owned by VanderSloot (but no longer), ran a four-part series on MRS’ aggressive collection practices with particular focus in supplemental attorney fees added on after judgment or collection of the amount due. The series drew more than a thousand online comments, many telling their own stories of dealing with Smith, Zollinger and MRS.
VanderSloot announced last week that he and his wife had set aside $500,000 “to protect East Idaho citizens from attorneys who appear to be using unscrupulous methods to take small debts of a few hundred dollars and transform them into huge debts of thousands of dollars by adding outlandish attorney fees.”
VanderSloot specifically identified Smith and Zollinger and MRS by name, calling them part of a “scheme”. Bryan Smith released a statement that he and his firm takes their “professional and ethical obligations seriously”. VanderSloot’s criticism went statewide and generated an overwhelmingly positive reaction in East Idaho on social media.
VanderSloot is a major political figure and a significant GOP contributor in Idaho. It is difficult to see how Smith could now be elected GOP state chair. Zollinger’s hold on his legislative seat could be tenuous given the massively negative publicity generated over MRS.
The second item of interest was a rally in Boise where Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (an owner of an Idaho Falls bar) appeared in front of a Patriot Day rally sponsored by Real III Percent of Idaho, a wacky hard-right militia group that supports guns and opposes vaccines. She administered an oath (used by the Idaho National Guard) to attendees to support the Constitution but edited out the requirement to follow the orders of the American president or Idaho’s governor. Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Morning Tribune opined that “McGeachin has proved herself unfit” by backing militia supporters.
Adding to the fire, East Idaho State Rep. Chad Christensen, according to Nathan Brown of the Post Register, boasted: “It’s time we meet that oppression with resistance. I promise you this, I’ll be the first one to step outside these Capitol walls and stand with you when the time is right.” Good grief.
Brown, after a bit of research, wrote that Christensen plagiarized his speech from a libertarian anarchist without attribution.
McGeachin has staked out her ground with the world of weird conspiracists who believe armed rebellion is a valid approach. Christensen is one of them. Both are embarrassments to the region and state.
Gov. Brad Little is in a tight spot with McGeachin. He just appointed her to head a task force on government efficiency and was asked by media about her antics. Undoubtedly, he is annoyed by her foolishness. Unfortunately, his options are limited (except cutting her out of policy making) until she is up in 2022.