Legal bill • Records show cost of defending law through end of year, but total is going higher.
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Utah's enforcement-only immigration law has already cost taxpayers in excess of $85,000 to defend in federal court, according to government records obtained by a social justice group.
United for Social Justice filed its open records request in November and, after not getting a breakdown of costs the first time around, filed an appeal in January.
It released its findings Thursday.
Mindy Hatch, director of the group, said the money would have been better spent on other things.
"This amount of money is small in the state budget, but it would be money better spent on true state priorities," Hatch said. "If the monetary value of all the legislative time and effort spent in 2011 on a federal issue were added, this figure would expand to a bloated spot on the state budget."
The immigration law, HB497, was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Sandstorm, R-Orem, and was a part of a series of bills meant to tackle reform on the hot button issue. It would require local police to check the legal status of suspects in felony crimes while leaving it optional for them to do the same for those arrested for misdemeanors.
The law was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in March, but was only in effect for a few hours when U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups granted the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Immigration Law Center a temporary restraining order.
It is scheduled to be heard in federal court Feb. 17 and Hatch said since the U.S. Department of Justice joined the lawsuit in November, the costs from Jan. 1 through the final ruling will "add greatly" to the $85,000 bill.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said his office is legally required to defend legislation signed into law and that he will always pursue those cases vigorously.
"We have a duty to defend state laws and regardless of petty politics, we do so zealously and professionally as lawyers," Shurtleff said.
According to the records provided by United For Social Justice, lawyers in the Attorney General's Office have logged 771 hours on the case through the end of 2011. Hatch said when the case is fully litigated, the group will file another records request to get a total cost for defending the law.
House Speaker Beck Lockhart, R-Provo, said lawsuits are always possible with any legislation passed at the Capitol.
"It's one of the risks of having legislation of any kind," Lockhart said.