Former judges, lawmakers appointed to legislative ethics commission
SALT LAKE CITY — Three retired judges and two former lawmakers were named members of the Legislature's new independent ethics commission Thursday.
The five-member commission will handle ethics complaints against lawmakers that previously were dealt with by members of the Legislature.
The retired judges are Michael Wilkins, from the Utah Supreme Court; Russell Bench, Utah Court of Appeals; and Jon Memmott, 2nd District Court and former director of the state Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.
The former lawmakers are Gayle McKeachnie, who also served as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Olene Walker, and Joanne Milner, education partnership coordinator for Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
The 2010 Legislature created the commission as part of a package of reform bills that were sparked by a citizens' initiative petition drive on legislative ethics. The petition has failed to qualify for the November ballot, but voters will be able to decide whether to make the Legislature's new ethics commission part of the state Constitution.
The head of the group behind the petition drive, Utahns for Ethical Government, said there are still concerns about the commission.
"We naturally are pleased with the establishment of the commission," UEG Chairman Kim Burningham said, calling his first reaction to the members named Thursday "pretty positive."
But Burningham said the commission will do too much of its work behind closed doors.
"This commission seems to be more in the business of protecting the Legislature instead of discovering ethical violations and pursuing those," Burningham said. "We think it should be much more open."
The sponsor of the bill creating the commission, Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said the only portion of the process that will be closed to the public is the initial review of complaints.
"This is supposed to be the investigation phase. If there is merit to it after the investigation, there will be an open trial phase," Valentine said.
The commission will announce when complaints are received, Valentine said, but will not be allowed to reveal any details, including the names of the lawmakers involved.
Complaints would become public only if the commission determines they have merit and warrant going forward with a hearing. The process is intended to help lawmakers keep complaints that they consider frivolous from surfacing.
The commission's first organizational meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, will be open. The commission must set up procedures, including how the public will be notified about complaints that are not deemed to have merit.
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