The governor should have the constitutional guarantee of his own attorney, the Constitutional Revision Commission decided Friday as it wrapped up its yearlong work.
Commission members debated with representatives of Attorney General Paul Van Dam for some time before deciding that Van Dam's concerns over the proposed constitutional amendment were dealt with satisfactorily.Van Dam, who generally agrees with the proposed amendment defining his constitutional duties, is worried that any future governor could hire an attorney, who in turn would think it his right to represent the governor in court or issue opinions with some legal authority.
But commission members Michael Zimmerman, an associate justice on the Utah Supreme Court, and Scott Matheson Jr., a University of Utah law professor, said their reading of the amendment, as a whole, tells them that the attorney general is the chief and only legal counsel for the state, the only one who can represent the state in court or issue legal opinions.
Commission members said they will include, as part of the legislative language, intent statements that clearly allow state department directors to employ "law-trained" aides to advise them, but also clearly state that these in-house attorneys can't represent the departments in court and can't publicly oppose the attorney general on legal issues.
Actually, the commission's work on the attorney general's section in the Constitution makes few changes for the current high law.
Several years ago when the commission started its work on the attorney general's constitutional role there was the possibility of great changes - making the attorney general appointed instead of elected, giving him prosecutorial responsibilities but stripping him of his role as attorney for all state agencies, and a number of other controversial issues.
When Van Dam earlier this year issued an opinion saying a new law on domestic violence - wife-beating - was unconstitutional, some commission members were concerned. Law enforcement agencies were refusing to enforce the new law based on Van Dam's opinion - even though no court had ruled the law unconstitutional - and some commission members wondered if the attorney general should, in the Constitution, be barred from giving opinions.
But that flap blew over as well.
The proposed amendment now goes before the 1991 Legislature, which convenes next month. If passed by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate, it will go before voters in the 1992 general election for adoption.