Harold G. Christensen, 62, a Salt Lake lawyer and a friend of Sen. Orrin Hatch, became the third man Tuesday selected so far by Attorney General Edwin Meese III to be his deputy at the Justice Department.
Meese, however, is apparently waiting until a background check on Christensen is completed before he formally announces his nomination and sends it to the Senate.Christensen would replace former Deputy Attorney General Arnold I. Burns, who resigned March 29 in a protest over Meese' administration of the Justice Department and Meese's alleged improper actions in the Wedtech case.
Meese's efforts to fill the vacancies have been stymied. His first choice, former federal judge Arlin Adams, rejected the offer, saying he had too big a legal caseload. St. Louis lawyer John C. Shepherd withdrew his name from consideration 15 days after his selection was announced in the wake of publicity surrounding a controversial case involving his law firm and his membership in clubs that excluded women or blacks.
Christensen is a senior partner in the Salt Lake law firm of Snow, Christensen & Martineau and is a former law partner of Dee Benson, administrative assistant to Hatch, R-Utah.
Hatch suggested that Meese consider Christensen for the post, even though Meese and Christensen were not acquainted, Benson said.
"It was a case of the senator knowing someone who he felt had the qualifications needed for the job, and pointing him out. Christensen has solid experience and is a highly respected lawyer," Benson said.
He added, "We sometimes complain that we don't get the best and brightest in positions here in Washington.
The senator wanted that to happen in this case."
Hatch said, "All of this has arisen during the past week. Mr. Meese met Hal and liked him. But like all nominations, it has to go through a process and that is what's happening now."
Hatch added, "Hal is a great lawyer, a fine person and will bring a stability to the Justice Department that many will appreciate on both sides of the aisle. I think he will have bipartisan support, and I feel he has an excellent chance of getting this position."
Christensen was president of the Utah State Bar from 1975 to 1976. He is a Republican but has not been active in politics, Benson said. However, he added that Christensen was once involved as an organizer of a Lawyers for Matheson committee.
Christensen could not be reached in Salt Lake City for reaction - even though reporters called early at his house and virtually camped out in his office. His secretary - sitting behind a thick stack of messages from reporters - said Christensen had been so busy Wednesday morning that she had not even had much of a chance to talk to him either.
The Washington Post did reach him, however, and quoted him in Wednesday editions saying, "My life has been pretty much devoted to the profession" and that he has "always been interested in civic things but had never run for office."
Christensen is a widower and the father of three grown children.
Asked whether he belongs to any private clubs, Christensen told the Washington Post, "I do not belong to any clubs that exclude people."
Wednesday, a White House spokesman said Wednesday that Christensen is one of "a number of candidates" under consideration to fill the No. 2 job. Marlin Fitzwater, traveling with Reagan in Chicago, said Christensen is getting a background check and is a candidate.
"We're reviewing a number of candidates, doing background checks. I can't confirm anything," Fitzwater said.
Of note, Christensen and other partners in his law firm also own SCM Land Co., which owns the Newhouse Building at the corner of Exchange Place and Main Street. It and the nearby Boston Building were the first "skyscrapers" built in Salt Lake City and at one time were the tallest buildings west of St. Louis.