Supporters of Utah's tough new abortion law want to know why Attorney General Paul Van Dam is paying lawyers to fight an ACLU challenge to the law when pro-life organizations offered to represent the state for free.
"As a legislator, I'm responsible for how the money is spent here. This is an unwise use of the money," said Rep. Reese Hunter, R-Salt Lake, questioning whether the attorneys hired by the state support the law."If we're going to hire soldiers and have those soldiers on our front line, we want to make sure they're on our side," Hunter said during a news conference Tuesday. "I don't know if they're philosophically on our side."
The legislator, who pushed for an even tougher law, said attorneys from the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United For Life as well as a Georgia law school professor volunteered to defend the bill that passed.
"These people are all up to speed on the issue," Hunter said. "They eat, sleep and drink the abortion issue."
His comments were endorsed by representatives of two conservative Utah organizations, Legacy and Eagle Forum.
The news conference in the Capitol Rotunda came a day after the attorney general announced that two attorneys from the Salt Lake law firm of Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough took the case.
Money to pay the pair, as well as a law school professor from Brigham Young University who will serve as a consultant, will come from a $100,000 appropriation made by the legislature to defend the controversial law.
The attorneys from the law firm - former Gov. Calvin Rampton and Miles Holman - agreed to accept less than their usual rate, and BYU professor Richard Wilkins is working for $50 an hour.
Van Dam was out of state Tuesday and not available for comment, but his solicitor general, Jan Graham, said the attorney general had considered public perception in choosing outside counsel.
"We knew the public would feel more comfortable if they felt at least one member of the lawyer team had some personal investment" in defending the law because it reflects his or her own views on abortion, Graham said.
Graham said Holman fills that requirement because he is in favor of the new law. Rampton, a Democrat, has not made his views on abortion public. Wilkins helped draft the law.
She said the only formal offer of free legal help received by the attorney general's office came from James Bopp, a National Right to Life Committee attorney.
"It was very clear to us that his client in this action would have been National Right to Life, not the state of Utah. That's totally unacceptable," Graham said.