If you don't like what the state attorney general is doing you can vote him out of office every four years - which Utah voters did last November. Or you can modify his job by changing the Utah Constitution.
The Utah Constitutional Revision Commission is studying the latter approach this year.The commission has wanted to look into the role of the attorney general for more than four years, says chairman Karl Snow, a former state senator.
But former Attorney General David Wilkinson didn't relish that idea. When it was suggested that the commission study the attorney general's role, "He started sending someone to our commission meetings and watching us. It was clear that this (study) was going to be a hot issue, one that wouldn't be debated on the merits but on politics. So we put it off," Snow recalls.
Wilkinson, a Republican, lost to Democrat R. Paul Van Dam in November. Snow says that now the commission will study the attorney general's role and that Van Dam has already agreed to participate and testify before the commission.
Should the attorney general be both prosecutor and counsel for the state? Snow says that's the main question. Before you fall asleep over it, however, consider the problems that duel role has caused in the past:
-More than one attorney general - sometimes of the same political party as the governor, sometimes the opposite party - has threatened to sue the state agencies he represented if the agency pursued a course of action he didn't like.
-The governor must rely on the attorney general to fight other governments or people in court battles sought by the governor but which the attorney general may not want to pursue.
-According to the attorney general (who interprets state law through opinions), only he can be the governor's legal adviser - public or private.
Snow admits that Wilkinson's use of the office - Wilkinson spent more than $700,000 fighting a cable TV regulation law that federal courts ruled unconstitutional and hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside legal advice - fueled the commission's interest in reviewing the attorney general's constitutional authority.
Snow says the commission won't address one of the issues Wilkinson worried about - whether the attorney general should be elected (as is now the case) or appointed by the governor.
Snow said he leans toward the federal system, where individual agencies have their own counsels and the attorney general and Justice Department prosecute violations of federal law.
"At the very least, the governor must have his own personal counsel paid for by the state. How can you decide broad state policy without consulting your attorney first? How can you confidentially ask for such advice from someone (the attorney general) who may have conflicting interests?"
No doubt Utah Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Zimmerman, who sits on the constitutional commission, can understand that argument. Zimmerman, as a private attorney, gave former Gov. Scott M. Matheson a number of free legal opinions to counter-balance Wilkinson's advice. Matheson was so impressed with Zimmerman's legal expertise, he appointed him to the high court.