A plaintiff in the legal battle over Idaho State University granting credit for off-campus religion classes said she never signed off on a secret settlement of the case.
Two weeks ago, attorneys for the group who sued ISU struck a confidential deal with school attorneys to avoid a court fight.The agreement called for creation of a secret committee to evaluate the academic rigor of the religion classes offered by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and several other Christian faiths. The deal also required the Pocatello school to pay $30,000 to the plaintiffs' attorneys.
In exchange, the 10 plaintiffs agreed to stop pursuing their federal lawsuit, alleging that the classes violated the First Amendment's provision for separation of church and state.
But one of the plaintiffs said she never agreed to the deal signed by her attorneys, David Hollander and Joel Bander, as well as Carole Wells, who signed for all the plaintiffs.
And plaintiff Shannan Steele, who has reportedly moved to Texas, wants the case to go back to court.
"Ms. Steele has discharged Mr. Joel Bander and David Hollander . . . in stipulating to dismiss this complaint without any written or verbal authorization, from Ms. Steele," wrote Steele's new attorney, Gary Montana, in a request for a new trial that was filed with U.S. District Court in Pocatello on Monday.
Wells would not comment on her fellow plaintiff's decision to challenge the deal.
Hollander said he could not comment on specifics of Steele's filing because he is still technically her attorney. But he did say it will be difficult to bring the case back to court, citing Judge Edward Lodge's March 17 stipulated judgment, which was signed minutes after the two sides struck the deal.
"A stipulated judgment is a very difficult thing to undo," he said.
Steele's filing could mean ISU's attorneys and the defendants' attorneys will be on the same side of a legal fight to defend the settlement.
Hollander and Bander stand to lose their $30,000 if Steele were to succeed in nullifying the settlement.
ISU attorney Kelley Wiltbank said the filing is a matter that must be resolved by the plaintiffs and their attorneys. As far as the university is concerned, "the Steele case is over and done with," Wiltbank said.
About 360 ISU students take the religion classes for college credit.
The courses are offered at the ISU LDS Institute as well as two other organizations representing several Christian faiths. School officials say they grant credit for the classes because ISU does not have its own religious studies department.