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AG office spent $85,000 defending HB497 in 2011

Published: Thursday, Feb. 2 2012 7:01 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General's Office spent more than $85,000 in 2011 defending the state against a federal lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of Utah's immigration enforcement law, according to data released Thursday by a group also opposed to the law.

"The amount of money may be small, but it would be money better spent on other priorities," said Mindy Hatch, representing United for Social Justice, at a press conference at the state Capitol.

Attorney General's Office records show from May 19, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2011, attorneys worked 771 hours on the lawsuit, filed orginally as Utah Coalition of La Raza et al. vs. Herbert, the group found through a state Government Records Access and Management Act request.

"The average cost for our office for the attorneys is $109.78 per hour and the average cost for the paralegals is $65.48 per hour. Those costs include salaries, benefits and overhead costs," John Swallow, chief deputy to Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, wrote in a letter to the group dated Jan. 18. 

The letter was in response to the group's initial request made Nov. 30 for the cost information, which the Attorney General's Office denied Dec. 8, saying that the time records could "disclose the AG's litigation strategies." The information was released to United for Social Justice after a follow-up letter of appeal dated Jan. 5.

The U.S. Department of Justice intervened in the lawsuit against the state in November, claiming HB497, which was signed into law last year, is unconstitutional because it attempts to establish a state immigration policy. A hearing on the federal government's motion for a preliminary injunction is scheduled in U.S. District Court on Feb. 17.

"The federal government is the chief enforcer of immigration laws, and while we appreciate cooperation from states, which remains important, it is clearly unconstitutional for a state to set its own immigration policy," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement when the DOJ intervened in the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit states that HB497 precludes state and local law enforcement officers in Utah from being able to respond to federal priorities, according to the lawsuit, and “will therefore disrupt the enforcement of federal immigration law.”

Hatch estimated that another $20,000 to $30,000 would be spent on the case in 2012 until the Feb. 17 hearing.

"If the monetary value of all legislative time and effort spent in 2011 … were added, this figure would expand to a bloated spot on the state budget," she added.

The group will make another GRAMA request for the Attorney General's Office costs in the case once litigation is complete, Hatch added.

A representative of the Attorney General's Office could not be reached Thursday for comment.

E-mail: lbrubaker@desnews.com

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