Ada Sheriff: Investigation opened regarding Renee McKenzie’s possibly illegal practice of law

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a criminal inquiry regarding Renee McKenzie’s alleged claims to inmates that she is an attorney. McKenzie’s husband, Curt, is a lawyer and Republican senator from Nampa who chairs the State Affairs Committee.

Early this month, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill issued an order suggesting Renee McKenzie may have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law on behalf of Lance Wood, a murderer serving a life sentence. Practicing law without a license can be charged as misdemeanor contempt of court, punishable by up six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Sen. McKenzie declined comment Tuesday, except to confirm that his wife is no longer working at his Boise law office. He said he hadn’t heard of any investigation until the Idaho Statesman inquired. Renee McKenzie, who worked as a legal assistant, did not reply to a voice message. Sen. McKenzie said she wouldn’t be able to comment.

Sheriff’s spokesman Andrea Dearden said Tuesday that the investigation was prompted by new information uncovered by detectives investigating an unrelated matter at the state prison complex south of Boise. Dearden said inmates other than Wood allege that Renee McKenzie was representing herself to them as a lawyer.

Idaho Department of Correction spokesman Jeff Ray and Ada County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Roger Bourne both said their offices had not requested the sheriff’s inquiry.

Renee McKenzie worked as a legal assistant for Wood from November to Feb. 14, when Winmill withdrew his order allowing her to assist Wood in a civil lawsuit alleging a female guard sexually harassed him. A December trial ended in a mistrial. Sen. McKenzie’s law firm has not and does not represent Wood.

In his April 8 order, Winmill said Renee McKenzie engaged in an “inappropriate” relationship with Wood, who tortured and murdered a gay theater student in Utah in 1988.

Wood is serving life without the possibility of parole. Wood and Renee McKenzie spoke for more than 100 hours on the phone between December and February. McKenzie told Wood “I love you,” and said she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him in calls monitored by prison officials. She also visited Wood in prison and was allowed to meet with him privately until prison officials stopped the practice, according to state records.

Renee McKenzie told the Associated Press her relationship with Wood is “irrelevant” and that the state’s breach of attorney-client privilege is “the real issue.” Winmill said no such privilege exists because McKenzie is not a lawyer and the law firm does not represent Wood. Earlier this month, Sen. McKenzie said his wife had been  “duped by a convicted murder and con man.”

On Tuesday, Sen. McKenzie declined to say why his wife no longer works for him. He also declined comment on the state of their marriage. The couple has two children.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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