The Idaho attorney general's operation is finally being put back together after more than three decades of being scattered to the wind by the necessities of coping with a malfunctioning occupant of that office.

Frank Benson, a Democrat, was elected attorney general in 1958 on a fluke. He was carried into office on a rare Gem State Democratic landslide and partly on the rumor that he was related to Idaho native Ezra Taft Benson, secretary of agriculture and a leading light in the Mormon Church.

The new attorney general had a problem. He was a tad unstable. Among other antics, he was sure that Republican Gov. Robert E. Smylie was trying to bug his office electronically. Benson pulled telephones out of their moorings and beat holes in the walls looking for bugs.

He also had an odd way about him. One day he would stand in front of you and you alone, bombastically waving his arms and talking at the top of his lungs as if giving a speech for 10,000 people. The next day, he might stand in front of you, shy, head down, voice muted, afraid to look anyone in the eye. He had only two settings very low and over the moon.

His advice became so irrational at times that departments started hiring their own attorneys. And the courts, expediently, upheld the practice.

Benson was gone four years later. A discreet appropriation was passed by the Legislature to repair the physical damage done to his office. But the temporary process of letting individual agencies hire their own assistant attorneys general was never repaired.

Until now. The current attorney general, Alan Lance, is using a scheduled July 1 consolidation of all legal services to put the department back together again after all this time. And he is also advancing his belief that attorneys should specialize in legal areas of interest not in specific departments of government. Thus they can be assigned where they are needed when they are needed. That's a better focus. And it might save some money because it assigns a lawyer to an agency when it needs a lawyer and not automatically whether there is much legal work cooking in that department or not.

It's long past time when that should have been done. So good for Alan Lance. And when this reorganization is completed that will leave him with just one last task:

Somebody still has to find those bugs in the office walls. B.H.

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