Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam will concentrate more on helping state universities and less on collecting overdue debts.
In the first of what he said will become monthly press conferences, Van Dam announced he is reorganizing his staff and creating new divisions for education and human resource issues.Fusion research at the University of Utah is one reason for the emphasis on education, but Van Dam, elected to his first term in November, said all state schools have a legitimate need for more legal help.
"Utah universities produce 50 to 100 patentable items a year," he said.
Van Dam also said he will be devoting more resources to fighting white-collar crime and consumer fraud.
He will place less emphasis on collecting student loans and on overdue debts owed to University Hospital, among other things.
"Those collections are important, but they're not as important to me as, say, antitrust violations," Van Dam said.
Ten attorneys will be assigned to the education division, representing all state universities and junior colleges. Fifteen attorneys will be assigned to the human resources division, representing the Department of Social Services and the office of Recovery Services, recovering things such as delinquent child support payments.
Van Dam said the changes are logical and allow his office to provide expertise where needed.
In answers to reporters' questions, Van Dam also said:
-He is considering joining another state in a lawsuit aimed at clarifying whether Utah has the right to exempt state employee retirement benefits from taxes while not exempting federal employee retirement benefits. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down a Michigan law allowing such exemptions. The law is similar to Utah's.
The lawsuit would determine whether Utah would have to grant a retroactive exemption to federal employees, which would cost the state an estimated $54 million.
-He believes there are no constitutional problems with a law passed last week by state legislators making it a class-A misdemeanor to reveal certain things said in meetings dealing with fusion research. The Society of Professional Journalists is angered by the provision, saying it violates free-speech rights.
"I think the law is pretty clear," Van Dam said, noting he met with legislators prior to the law's passage and gave them advice. "There are precedents for that type of restriction."