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Rolly: State's lawyers butter the right bread

Published May 4, 2013 1:53 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Third District Judge L.A. Dever's recent ruling that the Utah Legislature is legally bound to release records related to its redistricting strategies without charging exorbitant fees for the records has exposed one glaring truth about the Legislature and the politics that guide it.

Those who are paid with taxpayer money to interpret and then follow the law are fully aware of who exactly they work for.

It isn't the taxpayer.

Just how the Legislature drew up legislative and congressional boundaries in 2011 and what right the public has to scrutinize the thinking that went into those decisions are politically charged questions.

And the way the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel chose to scrutinize those issues reveals that those who run that office realize the Legislature, their employer, is about 80 percent Republican.

And, lo and behold, the attorneys in that office made decisions that — drum roll, please — favored Republicans.

One of the things that compelled the Utah Democratic Party to sue the Legislature for its handling of redistricting records was the insistence by the General Counsel's Office that the Democrats pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to see the emails, texts and other communications between Republicans relating to the redistricting deliberations.

In contrast, when the Republican Party asked for correspondence among Democrats relating to redistricting, it was, hey, no problem. The Republicans got the Democrats' correspondence for a little more than $2,000, a pittance of what the Democrats were being told to pay.

The reasoning was that the Democrats' request was far broader than the Republicans', whose quest covered the correspondence between specific players. But the discrepancy between the costs was farcical, to put it mildly.

At first the Democrats were told to pay about $5,000 and they eventually complied. But once that was agreed to, a bait-and-switch came into play. That $5,000 was only for a third of the records, and in order to get the other two-thirds the minority party would have to pay another $10,000. So it was about $5,000 for each of the three segregated batches of records.

What's worse, they didn't know what records were in each batch. So it was a choice between Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3. Or, more than $15,000 for the whole bunch.

Meanwhile, the Republicans got what they wanted for a fraction of what the Democrats were charged and the GOP made the most of what they got.

While the Democrats were still looking back and forth and the three piles of records they were being asked to pick, GOP state chair Thomas Wright went to the media with all the juicy communications between Democratic legislators and party officials and special interest groups about how to draw the boundaries.

There definitely were communications of that nature that were fairly scrutinized. But the Republicans had full access to those things while the Democrats were still deciding whether to pick a pile or pay through the nose.

The irony was that the final redistricting decisions clearly favored Republicans, both in the congressional and legislative districts, while the Democrats were the ones being publicly labeled the bad-guy manipulators because only their communications were available to the public.

It was that same Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel that pitched the argument to legislators that they needed to clamp down on public access to records by reforming the Government Records Access Management Act, or GRAMA. The Legislature rammed the bill through, then repealed it later after learning their constituents were outraged by the move.

The only legislators the legislative attorneys made that pitch to were in the closed Republican caucuses in the Senate and the House.






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