Reporting error reverses one Idaho Democrat’s apparent win in Idaho, county office says

The number of votes counted in Jerome County were incorrectly reported on the Idaho Secretary of State’s office website, which made it appear that a Democratic candidate won, the Jerome County Elections Office said in a press release Thursday.

While the Jerome County release did not specify which candidates were affected, Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said the miscount affected Legislative District 26, Seat B, which initially showed Democrat Karma Metzler Fitzgerald as the winner by 383 votes. Under the new legislative map created after redistricting, District 26 includes Blaine, Lincoln and Jerome counties.

After the tabulation was corrected, Metzler Fitzgerald lost to Republican Jack Nelsen by a small margin of 83 votes, according to the new totals. It also tightened the margin of victory for Democrat Ned Burns to just 38 votes, and Democrat Ron Taylor’s victory over Republican Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome, to 512 votes rather than about 1,000, but did not change the outcome.

Houck said Jerome County consulted with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office to determine the cause of the discrepancies and found there was a missing “vote type” configuration between the tabulated results and the way the results were published on the secretary of state’s website on election night.

The elections office marks ballots according to absentee, early vote and Election Day differentiators to track statistical information, Houck said, and when the results were reported to the state, the ballot type for early votes was not factored into the overall total. He likened it to an Excel spreadsheet formula that failed to capture one column’s data.

“Even though the data in the table was an accurate reflection of what their machine results were and what they had reconciled that night, what was visibly seen by the public did not reflect those numbers,” Houck said.

The incident underscores the fact that all results published on election nights are unofficial until the canvassing process is complete and results are certified, Houck said, but it also reflects the checks and balances that help ultimately ensure the outcome is correct. The deadline for the Idaho State Board of Canvassers to meet and certify election results is Nov. 23.

“It is important to understand that the original totals printed by the tabulation equipment were accurate, remain unchanged, and allowed for the correct reconciliation with poll book records and voter counts as calculated on the evening of Nov. 8,” the release said.

Houck reiterated that the hard copy results were correct, and would stand up to a recount if the candidate requests one.

Metzler Fitzgerald posted on Facebook on Wednesday that she had already applied for keys to the Idaho Capitol, a parking permit and committee requests, and had planned on attending legislative meetings in Lewiston on Monday.

Prior to the reversal, the balance of power in the Idaho Legislature remained unchanged from the prior year. Now Republicans have gained one seat, with 59 Republicans in the Legislature and 28 in the Senate. Democrats now have a total of 18 seats between the two chambers.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

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Bundy campaign fined $250 by Idaho Secretary of State for ‘Don’t Vote’ signs

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office has imposed a fine of $250 and instructed Ammon Bundy’s gubernatorial campaign staff to add the words “Paid for by Ammon Bundy for Governor” to the website associated with signs posted across the state that say, “Don’t Vote.”

The QR code on the signs brings up, followed by a series of statements about how a person should not vote if they are not informed, and if they do, they are the most dangerous person to a democracy. The site then prompts the person to “Get informed” by going to Bundy’s campaign website.

The Idaho Capital Sun obtained a copy of a letter sent by Deputy Attorney General Robert A. Berry to Bundy’s campaign address on Tuesday. The letter gave notice of the fine for violations of Idaho Code. Berry pointed to a section of Idaho Code around campaign finance that directs candidates to clearly indicate who is responsible for communications that advocate the election, approval or defeat of a candidate or ballot measure.

A representative from Bundy’s campaign could not be reached for comment Friday.

Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck told the Sun on Wednesday that his office was initially unsure if the signs were made in coordination with Bundy’s campaign. As the Sun reported, the domain for the website was attached to an address listed in New Plymouth that matched donation records for Jerry Jones. Jones has donated $3,560 to Bundy since August 2021, according to amended reports on Friday. Previous donation records as of Tuesday showed Jones had donated $6,050.

“In a subsequent interview by phone with (Jones), he claimed no responsibility or involvement with the site or campaign, other than that of a donor/supporter,” Berry said in the letter. “The domain registration was connected to a family member’s business. He also stated that the copies of the signs in question that he had in his possession at the time … had a small sticker disclosing ‘Paid for by Ammon Bundy for Governor’ in the bottom left corner.”

The letter said the stickers are roughly one-by-three inches in size and added to the sign after it was printed.

“The attributions on the ‘Don’t Vote’ signs were roughly one-fifth of the overall size of the same attribution on the immediately adjacent ‘Ammon Bundy for Governor’ signs produced by the campaign, an attribution which is consistent with what would be considered normal and ‘clearly’ visible as per statute,” Berry said in the letter.

While the small disclaimer was on the signs, the letter said the website does not include any attribution to the campaign, and therefore the maximum $250 would be fined. Additionally, the letter requests an acknowledgement from the campaign that all future campaign communications will clearly attribute who paid for them in a manner more consistent with their main campaign signs.

As of Friday morning, the website did not include any statement about who paid for it.

Berry also indicates in the letter that, if the campaign does not pay the fine, the Idaho Attorney General’s office may pursue further legal action to enforce its payment.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Idaho Secretary of State’s office working to find source of ‘Don’t Vote’ signs

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office is working to determine the source of signs posted around the Treasure Valley with a message that says, “Don’t Vote” and a QR code that redirects to the campaign website for Ammon Bundy, who is running as an independent candidate for governor.

The QR code brings up, followed by a series of statements about how a person should not vote if they are not informed, and if they do, that person is the most dangerous person to a democracy. The site then includes a button with the description “Get informed” and clicking it takes the user to Bundy’s campaign website.

Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said his office reached out to Bundy’s campaign about the signs on Monday but has not yet received a response. Bundy’s campaign could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

The signs do not indicate who paid for them to be printed and placed, which Houck said would be a campaign finance violation if the campaign knew about them. Idaho law requires campaigns to indicate on all political advertising who is responsible for the advertising.

“That’s a violation, clearly,” Houck said. “The question would be, are they actually a campaign piece?”

The signs started to appear throughout Boise and Meridian in the past week, including along the major thoroughfare of Eagle Road, and KTVB reported there are also signs in Emmett.

“That means they are theoretically at least an October expense, which means any October expenditures or contributions would be reportable by Nov. 10,” Houck said. “It all gets down to whether it’s coordinated, and if that’s the case, when did these go out?”

If an individual made the signs on their own without the campaign’s knowledge, Houck said, it would still need to be reported as an independent expenditure. The deadline for those expenditures to be reported, if they do not exceed $1,000, is Tuesday, Nov. 1. Expenditures in excess of $1,000 must be reported within 48 hours, according to Idaho law.

“If someone reports it as an independent expenditure by end of day tomorrow, that’s an answer,” Houck said.

The domain for the website does not include the name of the domain owner, but the address listed is in New Plymouth, and matches donation records for Jerry Jones, who has donated $6,060 to Bundy since August 2021. A call to the phone number associated with the domain goes to a recorded message saying the call cannot be completed.

Bundy reported two separate donations from Jones on Monday in the amount of $1,000 and $2,500, but Houck said if Jones paid for the signs, the donations would need to be reported as in-kind contributions rather than cash or check. And if the monetary donations were in addition to in-kind contributions, Houck said, then the office will need to determine if Jones exceeded the $5,000 contribution limit for the general election.

“We’re paying attention to it, we’ve definitely been made aware of it and we’re trying to figure out where it falls,” Houck said. “It would definitely seem that with the different connections there and the fact that it does point directly at the Bundy website that it’s either an independent expenditure or in-kind, so we will definitely be following up on it.”

Bill prohibiting public drag performances to be introduced in upcoming Idaho legislative session

A bill that would ban drag performances in all public venues will be introduced in the first days of the next session of the Idaho Legislature in January, Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Conzatti and other conservative activists around Idaho and across the country have protested against events in public spaces that feature drag queens, including drag queen story hour events at public libraries. In September, Idaho Republican Party Chairwoman Dorothy Moon called for people to pressure corporate sponsors of Boise Pride to pull their names from sponsorship at the event over a scheduled “Drag Kids” performance for ages 11 to 18, which was ultimately postponed over safety concerns.

Conzatti said the draft bill is ready to be introduced as soon as the session gets underway but declined to share the text of the bill with the Sun and wouldn’t name the legislators who worked on it with him.

“No child should ever be exposed to sexual exhibitions like drag shows in public places, whether that’s at a public library or a public park,” he said.

Conzatti also cites a drag performance in Coeur d’Alene in June as another example of public indecency, when a performer was accused of exposing himself during a Pride in the Park event. After complaints, the local prosecutor’s office determined the video was edited to look like the performer had exposed himself when he had not. The performer has since filed a defamation lawsuit against North Idaho blogger Summer Bushnell over the incident, according to reporting from the Coeur d’Alene Press.

Group cites section of Idaho Constitution as basis for law

The Idaho Family Policy Center circulated a petition leading up to Boise Pride asking state lawmakers to prohibit drag performances from public places, citing a section of the Idaho Constitution that states the first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people and the purity of the home. It says the Legislature should “further all wise and well-directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.”

“There were many Supreme Court decisions from the 19th century dealing with public virtue and how sexual practices should not take place in public because it degraded public virtue,” Conzatti said.

In Conzatti’s opinion, drag is inherently a sexualized caricature of gender, which he compared to racist blackface practices that were a common practice in theater up until the last 50 years. He recognized that might be an offensive comparison to some.

“You overemphasize certain natural characteristics so much that it becomes a caricature of itself,” he said.

More than 3,500 people signed the petition, according to a newsletter from the Idaho Family Policy Center, and more than 26,000 emails were sent to corporate sponsors of Boise Pride over the course of a day and a half.

Longtime drag performer says sexualized characterizations are insulting

Boise resident Crispin Gravatt has performed drag for more than a decade under the stage name Penelope Windsor in all types of venues, including drag story time at libraries and at Boise Pride in September.

“At its core, drag is art, and art can be powerful,” Gravatt said. “For a lot of us it’s a way to be part of a community and do something fun and creative. For me and for my friends, it’s kind of like art therapy, the same kind of thing we see with veterans or abuse survivors. It’s a way we can find joy and work through some of the challenges in a world that can be challenging at times for people like me.”

To Gravatt, drag is no different from original Shakespearean theater performances when men played women on stage and women played men, or the way a clown entertains a crowd. The misinformation about drag that is spreading is harmful, they said, because many people don’t know what drag actually is and end up believing something that isn’t true.

“It’s a little insulting that these folks think people like me don’t know how to act appropriately for where we’re at,” they said. “In my experience being in this community performing, producing, going to shows, and just celebrating who I am and who my community is, it’s weird to see that such a small group of people has made it so far in what they are trying to do, because 99% of people I meet all over the state – they think it’s a either a fun creative outlet or something that may not be for them, but isn’t a threat.”

Boise Pride director hopes to see pushback if bill is introduced

Boise Pride Executive Director Donald Williamson also received thousands of protesting emails in the days leading up to the event. He said he is aware of the draft bill and thinks it would be a violation of free speech to ban a certain type of performance, despite Conzatti’s assertions that it will be legally defensible if it passes the Legislature and is subsequently challenged in court.

“It’s just wrong on so many levels,” Williamson said. “If you don’t agree with the performances, then you don’t go. It’s just like any other venue. It’s why I don’t go to country music concerts; it’s not my cup of tea.”

Williamson spent several years as a bartender at a drag club in Oregon, and said drag was not built on a sexualized foundation.

“It was meant as a means of expressing your identity that maybe you didn’t have the ability to do in your public life, as a form of expression and empowerment,” he said. “Obviously like any other form of entertainment, there’s going to be some sexualizing in one way or another. … There’s a difference between a drag show that you and I might see if we decided to go see a drag show on a Friday or Saturday night with a cover charge, versus a drag show on a Sunday afternoon at a park in front of the public.”

Williamson said Boise Pride is planning an alternative kids’ drag show at a private venue for a later date so that the performers’ family and friends can attend and the work the performers put in doesn’t go to waste.

If the bill is introduced as planned, Williamson said he expects a lot of pushback, and he hopes those who showed up for Boise Pride will show up to the statehouse or contact their representatives.

“Show up and show out huge, not only when we see this legislation, but any legislation that’s targeting anybody that’s hateful or hurtful and is going to affect vast swaths of the population in a negative way.”

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

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Satanic Temple files lawsuit over Idaho abortion laws

Idaho faces another challenge to its abortion bans in federal court, but this time from the Satanic Temple, which argues the state’s abortion laws are unconstitutional violations of property rights, the equal protection clause, religious freedom and involuntary servitude.

The religious association filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Friday, along with a similar challenge in Indiana, which also has an abortion ban. In Idaho, District Judge Raymond Edward Patricco Jr. is assigned to the case.

The lawsuit argues against Idaho’s trigger law banning nearly all abortions and the civil enforcement law that allows family members to file lawsuits against medical providers who perform abortions. Both allow exceptions for rape and incest and to save the pregnant person’s life. The Satanic Temple asked the court to block the laws with an injunction.

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office declined to comment based on its policy of not commenting on pending litigation. Gov. Brad Little’s office could not be reached for comment.

Complaint argues Idaho laws are violations of constitutional freedoms

According to the complaint, there are more than 1.5 million Satanic Temple members worldwide, and more than 3,500 are located in Idaho. The Temple says it “venerates, but does not worship, the allegorical Satan described in the epic poem ‘Paradise Lost’ — the defender of personal sovereignty against the dictates of religious authority.”

Members must adhere to the Temple’s seven tenets, which include the idea that a person’s body is subject to their own will alone and that a person’s beliefs should conform to their best scientific understanding of the world. The fourth tenet also states that the freedom of others should be respected.

Attorneys for the religious group argue that the uterus of an “involuntarily pregnant woman” is a physical thing to which property rights apply, because eggs can be retained or removed, the uterus itself can be removed for any purpose, and it can be rented to a third party as a gestational carrier under a surrogacy agreement.

Those property rights cannot be violated by the state without just compensation, the lawsuit says, according to the Fifth and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Temple also says a pregnant person must provide a fetus with hormones, oxygen, nutrients, antibodies, body heat and protection from external shocks and intrusions, which are all services that an involuntarily pregnant person would be forced to provide under the state’s abortion bans.

“The Idaho abortion bans provide no compensation or consideration to an involuntarily pregnant woman for providing the services necessary to sustain the life of a protected unborn child that occupies and uses her uterus,” the complaint reads. “The … (pregnant people) are put into a condition of involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.”

Attorneys also argue the bans require discrimination between people who become pregnant by accident and those who were raped, which the complaint said violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Under the argument of religious freedom violations, the Temple said the state’s abortion bans prohibit members of the Temple from engaging in the Satanic Abortion Ritual. The ritual is grounded in the Temple’s tenets that a person’s body is theirs alone and not subject to violation by others. The ban therefore violates the state’s Exercise of Religious Freedom Act, according to the complaint.

“There are less restrictive means of furthering the state’s asserted interests served by the Idaho Abortion Bans than banning the Satanic Abortion Ritual,” the complaint said.

Temple lawsuit is one of several ongoing cases over Idaho abortion laws

This is the second lawsuit filed in federal court regarding Idaho’s abortion laws, the first of which came in early August when the U.S. Department of Justice sued the state because it said the abortion ban violated the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act — or EMTALA — which requires hospitals that receive payments for the federal Medicare program to provide medical care to stabilize all patients who come to the hospital with a medical emergency.

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a request to block the ban from applying to emergency room situations one day before the trigger law went into effect, and another hearing has not yet been scheduled in the case. Attorneys for the Idaho Legislature and the Idaho Attorney General’s office have asked Winmill to reconsider the order, saying he misinterpreted the law.

In addition, the Idaho Supreme Court will hold a hearing Thursday for oral arguments in the case filed by Planned Parenthood against the state of Idaho’s abortion laws.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Republican convicted of raping intern to appeal to Idaho Supreme Court

Less than a month after he was sentenced to at least eight years in prison for the crime of rape, former Idaho legislator Aaron von Ehlinger has submitted an appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, alleging Ada County’s Fourth District Court made several errors during his trial and sentencing.

A jury found von Ehlinger guilty of the felony crime of rape on April 29, and he has been incarcerated since that date. He was charged with the crime after a 19-year-old legislative intern, who is referred to as Jane Doe to protect her identity, said von Ehlinger, then 39, took her to dinner in early March 2021, then back to his apartment, where she said he forced her to perform oral sex and inserted his fingers inside of her without her consent.

Judge Michael Reardon added another possible 12 years to von Ehlinger’s sentence for a total of 20 years.

In the notice of appeal, von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, said the court should not have allowed the state to present evidence from a sexual assault nurse, and the court should have immediately declared a mistrial when Doe took the stand and then abruptly left the courtroom, saying she couldn’t bring herself to testify. Reardon did ask Cox if he wanted to motion for a mistrial after Doe left the stand and he declined.

Cox also said the court should have granted von Ehlinger’s motion for a new trial and said Reardon abused the court’s discretion by imposing a 20-year sentence with eight years fixed.

According to Idaho law, anyone who is found guilty at trial can appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court. A defendant must file a notice of appeal within 42 days of a judgment or order, and transcripts of court proceedings are produced before the person filing the appeal submits a full briefing explaining the reason the decision should be reversed.

Von Ehlinger’s attorney also filed a motion to have the fees waived for the production of transcripts and have them paid at the public’s expense, since von Ehlinger has been incarcerated since April and has no way to pay for it.

Cox also motioned for the court to appoint an appellate public defender to von Ehlinger’s case, saying he owes a balance to Cox’s law firm that he is unable to pay and should have a public defender moving forward.

Nate Poppino, spokesperson for the Idaho Supreme Court, said a full appeal will be filed with the court at a later date, at which point it will be assigned to an appeals court.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

White House declares Idaho abortion laws ‘extreme and backwards’

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre issued a statement Tuesday calling Idaho’s abortion laws “extreme and backwards” in response to a memo issued by the University of Idaho cautioning employees not to provide reproductive health counseling to students, including abortion, or risk losing their jobs or face criminal prosecution.

“To be clear, nothing under Idaho law justifies the university’s decision to deny students access to contraception. But the situation in Idaho speaks to the unacceptable consequences of extreme abortion bans,” Jean-Pierre said in the statement. “The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right to birth control, as well as the right to abortion, without government interference.”

The university’s general counsel sent the memo to all employees on Friday, advising that Idaho law prohibits university employees from promoting, counseling or referring someone for an abortion, and prohibits the institution from dispensing drugs classified as emergency contraception except in cases of rape. The memo was intended to help UI staff understand the complexity of a law passed in the 2021 session of the Idaho Legislature dubbed the No Public Funds for Abortion Act. The University of Idaho and other public schools across Idaho are subject to the law since they are state-funded institutions.

The University of Idaho’s Administration Building on the main Moscow campus. (Courtesy of the University of Idaho)

University of Idaho spokesperson Jodi Walker said the memo was intended to help employees understand the legal significance and possible ramifications of the law, which includes individual criminal prosecution.

“While abortion can be discussed as a policy issue in the classroom, we highly recommend employees in charge of the classroom remain neutral or risk violating this law,” Walker said in an email to the Sun. “We support our students and employees, as well as academic freedom, but understand the need to work within the laws set out by our state.”

White House official: U.S. Supreme Court decision created a runway for birth control bans

University officials were told in the guidance not to dispense birth control unless it comes from student health facilities that are contracted through Moscow Family Health, and not to provide condoms except to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

An official with President Joe Biden’s administration told the Idaho Capital Sun the university’s memo is indicative of a larger trend across the country of Republican officials expressing support for contraception bans, including banning Plan B.

At the time the bill passed the Idaho Legislature, one of the state’s leading anti-abortion organizations — the Idaho Family Policy Center — supported it as a way to ensure “abortion providers do not have unfettered access to students at public schools, colleges and universities,” according to a statement from 2021.

“Our hard-earned tax dollars should never be spent on promoting abortion,” said Idaho Family Policy Center President Blaine Conzatti in a statement at the time. “(The act) will help create a culture of life in Idaho by making sure taxpayers do not subsidize something as morally problematic as abortion.”

Conzatti told the Capital Sun in July that he supports banning Plan B and other types of emergency contraception as well as IUDs, because he said anything that can end life after conception is problematic.

The White House official said the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June paved the way for more restrictions.

“We’re seeing similar efforts pop up in various states across the country, and it’s part of a very disturbing trend that the Supreme Court created a runway for, and Republican officials are taking advantage of to go even further than some of the laws we’ve already seen,” the official said.

The official pointed people concerned about the issue to a website launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services summarizing reproductive rights across the country with links to resources and updated information.

“It’s important (for people) to identify medical professionals that have all the information about their reproductive rights and reproductive choices,” the official said.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Former GOP lawmaker sentenced to at least 8 years in prison for rape of legislative intern

Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger will serve at least eight years in prison for the felony crime of rape, with another 12 years or the possibility of parole, for a total of 20 years in prison, Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon ruled Wednesday.

Von Ehlinger will also be required to register as a sex offender upon the time of his release, and a court order not to contact the victim in the case will remain in place until Aug. 30, 2055. He will also receive credit for 139 days he has already served in Ada County Jail, and is ordered to pay court costs and $2,015 in restitution.

The sentencing comes four months after a jury found von Ehlinger guilty. The jury found von Ehlinger not guilty of the second charge of oral penetration. According to statute, Reardon had discretion to impose between one year and life in prison for the crime of rape.

A 19-year-old legislative intern, who is referred to as Jane Doe to protect her identity, said von Ehlinger, then 39, took her to dinner in early March 2021, then back to his apartment, where she said he forced her to perform oral sex and inserted his fingers inside of her without her consent.

The prosecuting attorneys asked for a 40-year sentence for von Ehlinger with 15 years fixed and the remaining time either in prison or on parole. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley said von Ehlinger had a low probability of rehabilitation. That determination is based on the pre-sentencing investigation that was conducted by a doctor to determine von Ehlinger’s risk of reoffending.

Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, asked for a lighter sentence with retained jurisdiction, meaning von Ehlinger would complete a rehabilitation program and Reardon could reassess his sentence afterward. Reardon did not grant the request to retain jurisdiction.

Cox motioned for a new trial earlier this month based on what Cox said were constitutional violations during the April trial as well as new evidence. Reardon denied that motion on Aug. 25, saying the evidence was not compelling and he did not think any constitutional violations occurred.

Ada County prosecutors played recording of victim impact statement from Jane Doe

Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Emily Lowe said Doe did not want to make any statements after the sentencing, and she only briefly appeared during the trial before fleeing the stand.

But Doe did record a victim impact statement that prosecutors played during the sentencing. In the recording, she said she already had post-traumatic stress from events that happened during her childhood, and what she experienced that night has put her in a constant state of hypervigilance.

“How can I recount the terror my body was going through that evening?” Doe said. “Have you ever tasted blood from biting the inside of your lips because you couldn’t say ‘no’ loud enough? Have you ever felt buried alive in your own flesh, that your screams stay trapped on the tip of your tongue?”

Doe said she will never forget the strength and force of von Ehlinger’s grip as he squeezed her head and forced her to perform oral sex. She said she worried he would become violent if she resisted beyond saying, “I don’t want to.”

She also said she does not feel safe in her own home, and that she was petrified to speak even on a recording.

“But I will not be intimidated into complacent silence so that another rapist can slip through the cracks of this justice system,” she said.

Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Margueritte Farley addresses Fourth District Judge Micheal Reardon during the sentencing of former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger at the Ada County Courthouse on Wednesday. (Sarah Miller/Idaho Statesman)

Judge Reardon to von Ehlinger: I am persuaded you used your power to your advantage

Von Ehlinger gave his own statement before Reardon made his decision and discussed the misdemeanor violations on his record that were pardoned by the state of Idaho one month before the rape occurred. Von Ehlinger said he asked for the pardons because he was committed to living a law-abiding life, and that the rape conviction did not change that commitment.

Von Ehlinger also talked at length about his military service, and said he served honorably as a soldier in Afghanistan, where “the only thing between Afghani women and the Middle Ages was the American soldier.”

He asked for Reardon’s mercy and leniency but said whatever treatment the judge ordered, he would treat it with the same seriousness as he would in the military.

Reardon said throughout the prosecution of the case, including during the trial, statements von Ehlinger made during the pre-sentence investigation and his statements in court on Wednesday, he noted von Ehlinger’s “demonstrated lack of empathy for the victim” and propensity to blame the victim.

“As I listened to you today, I wrote down two words: ‘victim’ and ‘hero.’ That you see yourself as a victim, and you see yourself as a hero. And frankly, I don’t see you as either one of those things,” Reardon said. “You created your own circumstances that put you here today.”

Reardon said there were also vast differences between von Ehlinger and Doe, including differences in age, physical stature and cultural power, given von Ehlinger’s position as an elected official.

“I’m persuaded that you used those things and manipulated them to your advantage in the completion of this crime,” Reardon said.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

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Idaho federal judge partially blocks abortion trigger ban: report

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted a pause Wednesday on the Idaho law banning nearly all abortions as it applies to emergency care at hospitals, following a challenge by the U.S. Department of Justice. The department argued the law violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

The abortion ban becomes effective Thursday, but doctors facing emergency medical decisions are protected from penalties under the abortion ban for now with Winmill’s ruling.

“Specifically, the state of Idaho, including all of its officers, employees, and agents, are prohibited from initiating any criminal prosecution against, attempting to suspend or revoke the professional license of, or seeking to impose any other form of liability on, any medical provider or hospital,” the ruling states, if an abortion is necessary to avoid placing the health of a pregnant patient “in serious jeopardy” or risking serious impairment to bodily functions or organs.

The injunction will be in effect until a final judgment is reached in the case at a later date, according to the order.

“Allowing the criminal abortion ban to take effect, without a cutout for EMTALA-required care, would inject tremendous uncertainty into precisely what care is required (and permitted) for pregnant patients who present in Medicare-funded emergency rooms with emergency medical conditions,” Winmill wrote.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office declined to comment on the ruling, saying the case is still ongoing.

Winmill issued the written decision two days after a hearing in Boise between the Department of Justice and attorneys for the Idaho Attorney General’s office and the Idaho Legislature. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit at the beginning of August against the state of Idaho on the grounds that the abortion ban violates the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA). That law requires hospitals that receive payments for the federal Medicare program to provide medical care to stabilize all patients who come to the hospital with a medical emergency. Violating the federal EMTALA law can result in a hospital losing its ability to receive Medicare payments, which is one of the main sources of revenue for hospitals.

Idaho’s trigger law prohibits abortion in Idaho in nearly all cases, with potential defenses for rape, incest or to save a patient’s life. If a medical provider violates the statute, they can be convicted of a felony with a sentence of two to five years in prison. Anyone who performs or assists in abortion can also have their license suspended for a minimum of six months or permanently.

The Department of Justice’s complaint said Idaho’s trigger law puts health care providers in an untenable position of risking either criminal prosecution under the state law or enforcement actions under the federal EMTALA law.

“The clear and intended effect of Idaho’s criminal abortion law is to curb abortion as a form of medical care. This extends to emergency situations, obstructing EMTALA’s purpose,” Winmill wrote. “Idaho’s choice to impose severe and sweeping sanctions that decrease the overall availability of emergency abortion care flies in the face of Congress’s deliberate decision to do the opposite.”

During Monday’s hearing, Winmill indicated he was inclined to grant the Department of Justice’s request to halt implementation of the law, saying he had several concerns about situations highlighted by physicians and he thought the federal law and Idaho’s law seemed to be in “absolute conflict” with each other.

The decision is contrary to a ruling that came Tuesday night from a federal judge in Texas, who said guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services about the law “goes well beyond” the text of the federal law, which he wrote “protects both mothers and unborn children, is silent as to abortion, and preempts state law only when the two directly conflict,” according to reporting from States Newsroom. That decision applies to the state of Texas, members of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Christian Medical & Dental Associations.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

US Department of Justice sues Idaho over abortion trigger ban

The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state of Idaho over the state’s trigger law that will ban nearly all abortions. The law is scheduled to take effect on Aug. 25, unless the Idaho Supreme Court puts the law on a temporary hold after a hearing Wednesday.

The lawsuit argues that Idaho’s trigger ban on abortion is unconstitutional. According to the Justice Department’s argument, the state law conflicts with a federal law that requires hospitals to provide medical care to stabilize all patients who come to the hospital with a medical emergency.

That federal law — the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act — applies to all hospitals that receive federal Medicare payments, which is effectively all U.S. hospitals with emergency rooms. The lawsuit says Idaho’s trigger ban on abortion violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it is in conflict with the act.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the lawsuit in a press conference on Tuesday, saying abortion is emergency stabilizing care in some situations. According to the lawsuit, Idaho’s trigger law places health care providers in an “untenable position of risking criminal prosecution under state law or subjecting themselves to enforcement actions under federal law.”

Violating EMTALA can result in a hospital losing its ability to receive Medicare payments — one of the main sources of revenue for hospitals.

“In some circumstances, the medical treatment necessary to stabilize the patient’s condition is abortion,” Garland said at the press conference. “This may be the case, for example, when a woman is undergoing a miscarriage that threatens septic infection or hemorrhage or is suffering from severe preeclampsia.”

Garland said Idaho’s law will make it a felony for doctors to provide emergency medical treatment that is required by federal law, and while the trigger law includes language that creates an affirmative defense when an abortion is performed to prevent a pregnant person’s death, it does not include an exception if an abortion is necessary to prevent “serious jeopardy” for a person’s health.

“Moreover, it would subject doctors to arrest and criminal prosecution even if they performed an abortion to save a woman’s life, and it would then place the burden on the doctors to prove that they are not criminally liable,” Garland said.

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said in a statement that the Department of Justice did not attempt to “engage Idaho in a meaningful dialogue on the issue” prior to filing the lawsuit, and called it a waste of taxpayer dollars.

“It’s unfortunate that, instead of sitting down with the state of Idaho to discuss the interplay between its abortion laws and EMTALA, the U.S. Department of Justice has chosen to file a politically motivated lawsuit,” Wasden said in the statement. “Contrary to the carefully edited assertion in paragraph 25 of the department’s complaint that Idaho’s laws are preempted, EMTALA actually states: ‘The provisions of this section do not preempt any state or local law requirement, except to the extent that the requirement directly conflicts with a requirement of this section.'”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued a statement Tuesday afternoon calling the lawsuit another example of federal overreach.

“Here in Idaho, we are proud that we have led the country in protecting preborn lives,” Little said in the statement. “I will continue to work with (Wasden) to vigorously uphold state sovereignty and defend Idaho’s laws in the face of federal meddling.”

At least 43 hospitals in Idaho have Medicare agreements, Department of Justice lawsuit says

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra released a similar statement in mid-July saying under federal law, access to stabilizing treatment that includes abortion is protected in all states.

The lawsuit also includes a request for a permanent injunction that would prohibit Idaho from enforcing the law against health care providers who administer abortions as emergency treatment required by federal law, Garland said.

“In the days since the Dobbs decision, there have been widespread reports of delays and denials of treatment to pregnant women experiencing medical emergencies,” Garland said. “Today, the Justice Department’s message is clear: It does not matter what state a hospital subject to EMTALA operates in. If a patient comes into an emergency room with a medical emergency jeopardizing the patient’s life or health, the hospital must provide the treatment necessary to stabilize that patient.”

According to the text of the lawsuit, at least 43 hospitals in Idaho have signed Medicare agreements, and 39 have emergency departments that are subject to compliance with the federal statute.

The lawsuit also says Idaho’s law is an obstacle to effective emergency care because it threatens the professional license of any health care professional who “assists” in performing or attempting to perform an abortion. The trigger law threatens a provider with a six-month license suspension for the first offense, and permanent revocation of a license for a second offense.

“A pregnant patient who arrives in the emergency department with an emergency condition is likely to encounter not just emergency department physicians, but also triage nurses, scrub nurses, lab techs, radiologists, anesthesiologists, and others whose role in any procedure could constitute ‘assisting’ in the performance of an abortion,” the lawsuit reads.

Associate U.S. Attorney General Vanita Gupta also spoke at the press conference and said the law would impede proper medical care.

“The law will chill providers’ willingness to perform abortions in emergency situations and will hurt patients by blocking access to medically necessary health care,” Gupta said.

Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center who helped advocate for the trigger law’s passage in 2020, said this is the same tactic the Department of Justice unsuccessfully used to try to block Texas’ heartbeat law and he is confident the U.S. Supreme Court will similarly dismiss the case for lack of standing. The justices ruled the federal court did not have proper jurisdiction to sue the state over a law passed by the Legislature.

“This is just a last-ditch effort from a pro-abortion administration to keep abortion legal in Idaho, and the Supreme Court is not going to allow that to stand,” Conzatti told the Capital Sun.

The Department of Justice filed the case in the Ninth Circuit federal district court.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

‘Absolutely disturbing’: Shock after election denier ousts Idaho GOP chairman

Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, will be the new chairwoman of the Idaho Republican Party, one of few women to ever lead the party in its history.

Delegates selected Moon and cheered loudly for her when she came on stage. The vote tallies were not announced, unlike in years past.

Moon narrowly lost her bid to be Idaho’s next secretary of state in the May primary and served three terms as a member of the Idaho House of Representatives. She unseats Chairman Tom Luna, who was elected in 2020, and is only the third woman to serve in the position since the late 1800s.

Moon thanked Luna for his service as chairman and said she appreciated the support of the delegation.

“We have to make sure with the Democrats coming at us with full force that we have our barriers up, our guns loaded and ready to keep us safe,” Moon said after the results were announced.

Moon is a legislator who earned high marks from conservative and libertarian groups for her hard-right voting record, and during the campaign for secretary of state, Moon said she did not believe President Joe Biden was legitimately elected by Americans in 2020. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

“The primaries are over, and my heart is strong,” Moon told the delegation. “And I’m committed to seeing Republicans up and down the ticket get elected in November.”

Darr Moon, her husband, is active in the Idaho Republican Party and serves on the national council for the John Birch Society, a far right-wing political advocacy group.

Luna told delegates it was an honor to serve as the state party chairman, and said he respected the will of the people.

“I only wish and hope for the best for the Republican Party going forward,” Luna said, becoming emotional toward the end of his remarks. “A party that I love so much.”

Campaign efforts between the two camps were fierce over the three-day party convention in Twin Falls. Attendees wore T-shirts supporting Moon and sported signs that referenced a lawsuit Luna filed on behalf of the Idaho Republican Party just before the primary because the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee endorsed candidates in state-level races. A judge determined Luna was correct in his assertion that the endorsements were a violation of the central committee’s bylaws.

Moon referenced the lawsuit in her speech before delegates on Saturday morning, saying she would not make a “unilateral decision without consulting executive committee members.” Luna acknowledged the lawsuit as well, saying he learned lessons from the situation and said he thought both sides could have done things differently.

Campaign efforts also included unknown individuals distributing alternate flyers to local shelters for people facing homelessness advertising free pizza at a campaign event Luna held Thursday night, in what Luna’s campaign staffers described as an effort to disrupt the event.

Moon called it a dirty trick and said she condemned the action.

“If I am your chairman, there will be no more dirty tricks,” Moon said. “We will never treat hard-working Idahoans with anything less than full respect.”

Delegates also chose Maria Nate, wife of Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, as the party’s next secretary. The new treasurer will be Steve Bender, second vice chairman will be Mark Fuller, and the first vice chairman will be Daniel Silver. All of the executive committee appointments are changes from the current committee makeup.

Republican opposition group responds to Moon’s election

Members of Take Back Idaho, a group of Republicans from across Idaho who are opposed to extremism within the party, issued a statement saying the election represents a dangerous lurch to the fringes of the party.

“Dorothy Moon’s election to Idaho GOP leadership is absolutely disturbing. Moon’s dangerous gallery of associations— including militant Ammon Bundy, militia leader Eric Parker, convicted rapist Aaron von Ehlinger, and white nationalists like Wendy Rogers — should be disqualifying for state party leadership,” the statement said. “But, fresh from their rightful rejection by Idaho voters just eight weeks ago, Moon and her powerful cronies are doing what they do best: changing the rules, courting extremists, and demanding allegiance to their dark vision for Idaho. With Dorothy Moon’s election to leadership, the Idaho Republican Party has firmly lost all touch with the average Idahoan.”

Idaho’s trigger law will abolish abortions 30 days after SCOTUS ruling overturning Roe v. Wade

In a 6-3 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court has voted to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that determined a person’s constitutional right to seek an abortion, a move that will make abortion illegal in nearly all cases in 13 states, including Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

The decision follows a report in early May in Politico signaling the court was poised to reverse the ruling through a leaked draft opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. In addition to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court also overturned Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 case about restrictions placed on abortion access.

“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” the justices in the majority wrote.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissent in the case.

“With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent,” it began.

Idaho governor: We must now come together to support pregnant women and teens

Idaho passed its trigger law in 2020, and it will take effect in 30 days, making abortion a felony. The law only makes exceptions for rape, incest and to save the pregnant person’s life. A rape or incest victim would have to provide a copy of a police report to the physician who would perform the procedure, a process which can sometimes take weeks.

In a statement, Idaho Gov. Brad Little said he joined many in Idaho and across the country in welcoming the court’s long-awaited decision that he said upholds state sovereignty and protects lives.

“This is now clear — the ‘right’ to an abortion was a judicial creation. Abortion is not a right expressed in the U.S. Constitution, and abortion will be entrusted to the states and their people to regulate,” Little wrote. “However, we fully acknowledge this monumental moment in our country’s history means we must confront what now will be growing needs for women and families in the months and years ahead. We absolutely must come together like never before to support women and teens facing unexpected or unwanted pregnancies. Families, churches, charities, and local and state government must stand ready to lift them up and help them and their families with access to adoption services, health care, financial and food assistance, counseling and treatment and family planning. We are being called to support women and our fellow community members in extraordinary new ways, and I’m confident Idahoans are ready to meet this responsibility with love and compassion.”

The Idaho Democratic Party released a statement saying Idahoans can no longer rely on the courts to protect their rights, and that Idaho Democrats will continue to fight for reproductive rights.

“Today’s decision will have especially dangerous consequences for the women and girls living in states like Idaho,” said state Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, in a statement released by the Idaho Democratic Party. “The only thing standing between them and forced pregnancy and birth — even in the case of rape and (incest) — was the constitutional protections of Roe v. Wade. Now that’s gone.”

In an emailed statement, U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, said the court wrongly determined a woman’s right to an abortion in 1973, and today’s decision is a step to “right that wrong.”

“The court’s decision recognizes that states have an interest in protecting life at all stages of development by giving Americans the power to decide this matter at the state level through their elected representatives,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Planned Parenthood said the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision will fall largely on people who already face the greatest barriers to health care, including Black, Latino and Indigenous communities, people with low incomes, gay and transgender people and people who live in rural areas.

“Make no mistake — this decision goes beyond abortion. This is about who has power over you, who has the authority to make decisions for you, and who can control your future,” said Jennifer M. Allen, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates CEO. “This is a dark day for our country, but our fight is far from over. The people of Idaho should know that Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates will always fight for you, and we will not back down. Generations before us have fought tirelessly to gain and protect our rights. Now it’s our turn to pick up the mantle.”

What will happen with the state abortion law currently before the Idaho Supreme Court?

After the draft opinion was published, leaders of Planned Parenthood in Oregon said their clinics are prepared for an influx of patients from Idaho. The organization, which is closing its clinic in Boise, is also opening a clinic in Ontario, which is about an hour away from Boise. That decision was announced shortly after Idaho passed a bill effectively banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

That bill, Senate Bill 1309, passed the Idaho Legislature in March, and Little signed it into law. Modeled after a similar law in Texas, the bill allows civil lawsuits to be filed against medical professionals who perform abortions after cardiac activity is detected. Little wrote in a letter accompanying his signature on the bill that he was concerned by the lawsuit mechanism, particularly since it seemed to provide monetary incentive to perpetrators of sexual assault crimes. The law awards no less than $20,000 to the mother, father, grandparents, siblings, aunt or uncle of the fetus or embryo, in a successful lawsuit.

The Idaho Supreme Court paused implementation of the law after Planned Parenthood challenged its constitutionality. The court scheduled a date of Aug. 3 to hear oral arguments in the case.

Blaine Conzatti, director of the Idaho Family Policy Center, helped push Senate Bill 1309 through the Legislature and said the ruling makes him more confident in its legal footing moving forward. He’s also confident that if Idaho’s trigger law is challenged in court, it will survive.

“We’re overjoyed that the (U.S.) Supreme Court has corrected decades of injustice in how our legal system treats pre-born babies,” Conzatti told the Capital Sun on Friday. “We are going to use every legal avenue we can to ensure that in the state of Idaho’s pre-born babies have the same constitutional protections as every other person. … The work is not yet done.”

Lisa Humes-Schulz, vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, said in an email that the organization won’t drop the lawsuit even with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling because the challenge is built on a right to privacy as outlined in Idaho’s Constitution, not Roe v. Wade.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure Idahoans can access the care they need through the challenge to (Senate Bill) 1309,” Humes-Schulz said. “We are looking forward to our day in court in August.”

Planned Parenthood representative: We’ll provide abortions in Idaho as long as legally possible

Planned Parenthood Greater Northwest spokesperson Katie Rodihan said the organization plans to provide abortion care for as long as legally possible in Idaho with Roe v. Wade overturned, which will be 30 days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In the meantime, Planned Parenthood clinics in Meridian and Twin Falls have increased the number of available appointments and are trying to find ways to fit patients in the schedule wherever possible.

Compared to the months of April, May and June of 2021, Rodihan said the clinics in Idaho have experienced a 40% increase in demand for abortion services. Appointments can generally be scheduled within a week of a call to the clinics.

“I think it’s people who are trying to get in and get care as quickly as they possibly can,” Rodihan said. “Some folks may otherwise take time to make their decision, but now they know there’s not going to be flexibility in the future.”

The clinics have not seen a significant increase in demand for contraception, including long-term contraceptives such as intrauterine devices — better known as IUDs — but Rodihan said they are recommending individuals stock up on emergency contraception, such as Plan B, which is available at Planned Parenthood clinics. Plan B has a shelf life of up to four years.

However, emergency contraception pills decrease in effectiveness for women who are over a certain weight, Rodihan said. In those scenarios, an IUD or birth control pills would be recommended.

Planned Parenthood recently closed its Boise clinic to consolidate resources in anticipation of the ruling to allow cost savings for telemedicine and other services, according to Rodihan.

“We’re going to need to increase things like telemedicine and also invest in our patient navigators so that we can both create more room for out-of-state patients in our protective states like Washington, Alaska and Hawaii, and also help patients in restricted states find their way to care,” Rodihan said.

That doesn’t mean the clinic in Boise will be closed permanently, she added. And another clinic in Ontario, Oregon, is scheduled to open in the coming months.

For the clinics in Idaho, the ruling won’t change the other 90% of care that Planned Parenthood provides to patients, Rodihan said, including pregnancy and STD testing, routine health care for women and men and hormone therapy.

“We’re fully committed to having a continued presence in Idaho,” she said.

Idaho Capital Sun editor-in-chief Christina Lords contributed to this story.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Jury to continue deliberation in trial of Idaho Republican accused of rape

A jury of 13 Ada County residents did not reach a verdict after seven hours of deliberation on Thursday evening in the trial for former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger and will return Friday morning to continue deliberations.

Von Ehlinger took the stand Thursday morning to strongly deny the accusation that he raped a 19-year-old former legislative intern in March 2021 and to say all sexual activity on the night in question was consensual.

Von Ehlinger’s testimony happened shortly before closing arguments from the prosecution and defense, and the jury will now deliberate on a potential verdict for two felony charges: rape and forcible penetration by a foreign object.

If convicted, von Ehlinger faces between one year and life in prison and would have to register with the Idaho sex offender registry, according to Idaho Code.

Under the law, von Ehlinger did not have to testify to defend himself but chose to do so. His defense attorney, Jon Cox, questioned von Ehlinger first and asked when they first met. Von Ehlinger, 39, said their first exchange by text message was in early February, after he wrote his phone number on a business card and gave it to Jane Doe.

The Idaho Capital Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault and refers to the former intern as Jane Doe.

Von Ehlinger said the two made plans to go to dinner on Tuesday, March 9, but it was unclear after cross-examination whether he classified it as a date, a business meeting or just friends meeting for dinner. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley asked if von Ehlinger asked Doe to dinner in his capacity as a state representative, and he said, “not necessarily.”

“She was flirting with me, so I thought, ‘Oh, why not?’” von Ehlinger said.

The former legislator said the two decided to go to his apartment afterward, around 10 p.m., but Doe has said in prior testimony that the idea of going to his apartment wasn’t discussed. He invited her up to his second-floor apartment and she sat on the couch with him after he asked if she’d like to sit next to him, von Ehlinger said. The two started kissing, and he asked if she wanted to go into his bedroom, which he said she agreed to.

That contradicts Doe’s statement during her brief testimony on Wednesday, when she said von Ehlinger picked her up and carried her into the bedroom. A few minutes into her testimony, Doe left the stand, saying she couldn’t continue, and District Judge Michael Reardon ordered the jury to disregard her testimony.

During cross-examination, Farley asked von Ehlinger how much he thought Doe weighed, and he said, “143 pounds,” which he said was too much for him to carry because of an injury related to his military service.

Cox also asked von Ehlinger what Doe was wearing that night, because he said it was relevant to what kind of contact occurred. One of the charges against von Ehlinger is that he forcibly placed his fingers inside her.

Von Ehlinger said Doe was wearing a black skirt and a pink blouse.

“How short was the skirt?” Cox asked.

The prosecution objected to the question, so he didn’t answer, but later in his testimony when describing other contact, von Ehlinger said the skirt was “not long.”

At no point did Doe give any indication she didn’t want to engage, von Ehlinger said, but he did confirm she told him she didn’t want to have sex that night. Instead, he said she performed oral sex on him and then he stimulated himself to ejaculation on her stomach.

Sexual assault examiner and Saint Alphonsus nurse Anne Wardle testified on Tuesday and said Doe told her that von Ehlinger pulled her hair and forced his penis into her mouth, and she yanked her head away and hit it on the headboard. Wardle testified that she did find a lump on the back of Doe’s head, and said Doe told her he ejaculated on her while he had her arms pinned with his legs.

In closing arguments, the prosecution reiterated to the jury that the case was about power and control, given von Ehlinger’s status as a state representative and as someone 20 years older than Doe. Cox asked von Ehlinger if Doe seemed mature for her age, and he said yes.

Cox told the jury in closing arguments that the state had to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and that it hadn’t proved it.

The jury proceeded to deliberations around 12:45 p.m. Thursday.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Judge denies request to delay trial for Idaho Republican accused of rape

Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon denied a request to postpone the trial date for former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who is charged with felony rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object, and the trial will still go forward on April 26.

Von Ehlinger, 39, is accused of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern in March 2021, when the former intern said the two went to dinner and then his apartment. Von Ehlinger has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has said the sexual activity was consensual.

Von Ehlinger’s attorney in the case, Jon Cox, told the court Monday he expected the trial would be delayed based on his understanding of the priority the courts assigned to jury trials when COVID-19 case numbers were high. In past cases, the court was giving first priority to criminal trials involving a defendant who was in jail. Von Ehlinger has not been in state custody since he was arrested and released in October.

Now that COVID case numbers are low, Idaho Supreme Court spokesperson Nate Poppino said judges have more discretion over setting priority for jury trials.

Idaho justices have talked publicly about a severe backlog of cases because of the pandemic and a lack of judges across Idaho. In February, Ada County Administrative District Judge Steven Hippler said conservative estimates of the backlog on criminal jury trials in his county was 350 to 500 cases. Reardon said pushing back von Ehlinger’s trial date would only create a larger backlog.

“It is not well-informed practice to rely on an ad-hoc priority list when there’s an order in the case that’s been outstanding that sets the case for trial on a specific date, and a date the parties agreed to at the time it was set,” Reardon said.

Cox said he had other court activity and engagements scheduled that would conflict with von Ehlinger’s scheduled trial date but said he would be prepared for the trial next week if he had to be.

“It was a mistake on my part to rely on the priority list that had come out,” Cox said.

Von Ehlinger served in the Idaho Legislature for less than one year, representing the Lewiston area, after he was appointed to fill the seat held by the late Rep. Thyra Stevenson. Following ethics hearings about his alleged conduct, von Ehlinger resigned his seat at the end of April 2021.

The trial is scheduled to last five days and will begin at 8 a.m. April 26. If convicted, von Ehlinger would face between one year and life in prison and have to register with the Idaho sex offender registry, according to Idaho Code.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Preliminary hearing scheduled for former GOP legislator accused of rape

A preliminary hearing for former legislator Aaron von Ehlinger will be held at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 29, following his arraignment before a judge Wednesday morning.

Von Ehlinger, 39, is charged with rape and forcible penetration by use of a foreign object, both felonies. A no contact order was also issued. The charges are based on accusations that von Ehlinger raped a 19-year-old legislative intern on March 9, when the former intern said the two went to dinner and then to his apartment.

The woman, known as Jane Doe, said von Ehlinger held her down and forced her to perform oral sex on him, according to her testimony during an April 28 hearing of the House Ethics and Policy Committee.

Von Ehlinger has maintained he is innocent and said the sexual activity was consensual.

The Idaho Capital Sun does not identify the names of alleged victims of rape or sexual assault.

Von Ehlinger appeared before Magistrate Judge John Hawley Jr. on Wednesday during an online hearing. He was arrested and booked into Ada County Jail on Friday afternoon after being extradited from Georgia to Idaho, then released. Von Ehlinger was arrested as a fugitive from justice in Clayton County, Georgia, on Sept. 24 as he traveled back from Central America.

His attorney, Jon Cox, says von Ehlinger was on a pre-planned vacation with family in Central America since May, before the warrant was issued, and he had intended to turn himself in when he reached Idaho.

Following the House Ethics and Policy Committee hearings, von Ehlinger resigned his legislative seat at the end of April. Boise Police Department investigated the criminal accusations and referred charges to the Ada County Prosecutor's Office, and a warrant was issued for von Ehlinger's arrest on Sept. 9.

Von Ehlinger served in the Legislature for less than one year. Gov. Brad Little appointed von Ehlinger to the Idaho House of Representatives on June 3, 2020, to fill the seat held by the late Rep. Thyra Stevenson. Von Ehlinger then ran unopposed in the November 2020 general election, where he was elected to a two-year term.

If convicted, von Ehlinger would face between one year and life in prison and have to register with the Idaho sex offender registry, according to Idaho Code.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christine Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.