Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What is going on with the Attorney General?

One has to wonder about the intentions of Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff who recently terminated the status of Special Assistant Attorney General to Carol Lear and Jean Hill. His claim is that they were working at cross purposes to his office by offering conflicting advice to the Utah Board of Education and in doing so, fostered an adversarial relationship with his office.

In the termination letter he claimed that they were no longer allowed to give any advice to the Board of Education and that their conversations would not be protected by the attorney-client privileges.

Some have claimed, perhaps correctly, that the Utah Constitution allows only the AG to give legal advice to the state government (with a possible exception being the governor, who, in some circumstances, can seek his own counsel). All this may be true. However, it raises a number of questions that really need answering:

1. Carol Lear has worked in her position advising the Board of Education for over 20 years and Jean Hill for 8 years. The Attorney General graciously bestowed the status of "Special Assistant Attorney General" roughly a month ago, according to Jean Hill. Why was he not worried about Carol and Jean Hill advising the Board prior to that time? It isn't like they just started working for the board recently?

2. If he didn't know that they were acting as legal counsel for the board, why didn't he? Is he so out of touch with the legal needs of government bodies that he would not have wondered why they weren't asking his advice on legal matters? Or more likely, he did know about it and didn't worry about it until it became convenient.

3. Why did he choose, just one month ago, to give Carol and Jean this special status? Surely, during all of this voucher mess created by the Legistlature, he would have know that the Board would have needed legal assistance. The debate on the HB148/HB174 issue has been going on since the session concluded at the end of February. Perhaps he wanted them to be under his thumb so that he could tell them what to do and how to advise the Board?

It would be helpful if the Attorney General would bring clarity to these matters (wishful thinking here).

One also has to wonder about the legal advice that the AG gave the Board of Education regarding HB174. It is obvious that his basis for that decision was very shaky, since a unanimous Utah Supreme Court disagreed with his contention that HB174 could stand on its own.

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