PROVO — The request for a temporary restraining order in the legislative District 57 dispute hit the courts late Thursday, less than 48 hours before a special election to fill the now-vacant legislative seat on Saturday.
The lawsuit filed by several district voters and Utah County GOP delegates asks the court to give voters in the disputed area in Cedar Hills representation in a special election by Republican Party delegates on Saturday; or as an alternative, for the court to issue a preliminary injunction, preventing the special election from going forward until complaints are heard in court.
Karen Herd, a plaintiff and Cedar Hills resident representing voters who are asking for the restraining order, said the issue immediately affects representation in the Utah Legislature for two voting precincts in Cedar Hills.
But the issue also has ramifications for that area's congressional representation: Residents who spent the past 10 years presuming they were in the 3rd Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, are now being told they are in the 2nd Congressional District, represented by Rep. Jim Matheson, a Democrat.
Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, Utah County Clerk Bryan E. Thompson and the Utah County and state Republican Party are named as defendants in the suit.
Herd, a real estate agent, advised now-former Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, when he chose a lot to build a new home in 2008. They relied on Utah County's map of District 57 to verify his new home would be within his district, according to the lawsuit.
Frank was elected a fourth term this past November. He found out earlier this month he lived outside his district when he entered his address into a new House website, based on a state map, and another lawmaker's name came up as his representative.
He had hoped to keep his seat, arguing that his election had been certified by the lieutenant governor's office, but gave up that fight Friday.
Jeff Teichert, the attorney representing residents in the disputed area, said Fourth District Judge Christine S. Johnson planned to review the request for the temporary restraining order Friday morning.
"Our preference would be for the judge to rule (Friday) so they can let the election go forward," Teichert said. "The Legislature is in session. The sooner they can seat a representative the better."
Utah County Republican Party Chairman Taylor Oldroyd said the party is as stuck in the middle of the dispute as the residents of the embattled precincts — working to fill the now-vacant District 57 seat while only able to include party delegates from undisputed areas in Saturday's special election.
"It's the party's obligation. In fact we have 30 days to fill the vacancy. We're trying to move much quicker than that because we're at the start of the (legislative) session," he said. "Everybody has operated in good faith thinking they were part of District 57. So in one respect we should grant that, and the map everybody was operating on for a long time should be the boundary. In fact, even the intent of the boundary was to include all of Cedar Hills in the same legislative district."
He also acknowledged the federal issue of whether the disputed precincts are in the 2nd or 3rd congressional district makes "a big difference."
Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, whose Senate district is also affected by the boundary mix-up, is carrying a bill to redraw the Cedar Hills boundaries to include what was a newly annexed area when the maps were drawn a decade ago. House leaders said they will wait until the bill arrives from the Senate before discussing the issue.
But the House GOP caucus overwhelmingly voted last week against seating Frank and fell short of enough votes to support redrawing the district boundaries. House Democrats were advised Monday to stay out of the fight by an attorney hired by the state Democratic Party to examine the issue.
With lawmakers set to begin redrawing all of the state's legislative and congressional boundaries again later this year based on the 2010 Census results, which are scheduled for release Feb. 4, there is reluctance to make a change that could benefit one of House Speaker Becky Lockhart's political allies.4 comments on this story
Oldroyd believes the Legislature dragged its feet pushing through a bill to solve the boundary problem because the larger redistricting effort is just ahead. "There has been some hesitancy to make a little fix now when we're going to be going through the whole process anyway" once new federal census numbers are out, he said.
Herd said the suit was filed because the Legislature did not act fast enough, and "over 2,500 Cedar Hills residents find themselves in danger of being represented by officials for whom they have never had an opportunity to vote."
The precinct issue gets even stickier: Two GOP delegates in Cedar Hills have houses that straddle the newly-discovered boundary line, Herd said. "This didn't come up until this morning," she said Thursday. "How do we know where they vote?"