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Lobbyists fired for working with Otter counter-sue their former firm

Idaho consultants and lobbyists John Foster and Kate Haas are counter-suing their former firm, Strategies 360, alleging the Seattle-based company acted inappropriately when it fired both of them in February.

Foster and Haas allege that Strategies 360 signed off on a project to work with Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in promoting an education reform plan before firing them for a conflict of interest in relation to the project, according to a counterclaim filed in Ada County District Court March 26.

They further allege that Strategies 360 officials were encouraging about the project until a Montana education union threatened to withhold future business from the firm due to their work with Otter in Idaho, the complaint states.

“In an abundance of caution … Foster emailed (Strategies 360) detailing the scope of work for the education campaign opportunity, which had not been accepted, and specifically confirmed the campaign work would put Strategies 360 on the opposite side of the National Education Association and the Idaho Education Association and their supporters,” the counterclaim states. “(Strategies 360) responded with positive, supportive, and encouraging words along with praises for the work.”

Paul Queary, spokesman for Strategies 360, said March 28 that the firm had no comment except that it stands “firmly behind the original complaint.”

Strategies 360 filed the initial lawsuit, alleging Foster and Haas stole Strategies 360 clients in Idaho, breaking a non-compete agreement the two had signed when starting work with the firm. Foster was hired to start the Idaho office for the firm in November 2010 and Haas was hired in February 2011.

Strategies 360 is known for working with Democratic and “progressive” clients, such as unions.

Since their termination, Foster and Haas have started another consulting and lobbying firm, Kestrel West, in Boise. The original complaint against the two alleged that the clients at the new firm were gathered using confidential client lists.

Several of the companies who have contracted with Foster and Haas said they were not solicited by Haas or Foster and came to them on their own accord to create a new working relationship.

The counterclaim rejects the accusations made by Strategies 360. It alleges instead that Foster and Haas were fired without cause, did not steal any clients and should not have to honor the non-compete agreement, which was “so vague, ambiguous and overbroad as to geography and scope as to be unenforceable.”

Foster and Haas want Strategies 360 to pay them for 30 days of work, which they contend they were entitled to due to terms in their original contracts. They also want attorney fees and other punitive damages for defamation of character and breach of contract.

The lobbyists were not treated in good faith and believe they were offered as a sacrifice after other clients complained, the counterclaim states.

“The conduct of Strategies 360 as described in this count was oppressive, fraudulent, wanton, malicious, or outrageous against the rights of Haas and Foster and the consequences Haas and Foster might suffer,” the counterclaim states.

Strategies 360 is still seeking money for damages they received in losing their clients, as well as attorney fees.

Foster and Haas’ attorneys also have filed a motion to either prevent Strategies 360 from obtaining information about Kestrel West’s new clients as part of the lawsuit or sealing that information from public inspection in order to keep both sides from violating confidentiality agreements with clients, according to court documents.

Foster and Haas both have previously worked for former Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho. Foster additionally served as the executive director of the Democratic Party of Idaho.

From 2006 to 2007, Foster worked as the managing editor of the Idaho Business Review.

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