Language used by the Salt Lake Police Department in a Utah Court of Appeals motion reflects the weakness of the city's argument against three present or past department employees, the trio's attorney said Thursday.

Patrolman Frank Hatton-Ward and former police department crime analysts Greg Chase and Jon Ilk filed a motion with the court May 2 to force the department to explain its failure to examine leads into several Utah slayings.The three contend they have information connecting local gangs to at least five slayings in 1985 and 1986. The department believes the slayings were committed by serial killer Paul Ezra Rhoades, now on Idaho's death row.

In a motion filed by City Attorney Roger Cutler to dismiss a writ of mandamus compelling the police department to explain why it ignored the leads, the department referred to the three as "junior varsity detectives."

"What that language implies to me is that they can't attack the merits of the case so what they do is attack the employees personally," said Fred Wasilewski, attorney for the three.

"We weren't trying to evaluate the merits," Cutler said. Instead, the department's motion focused on the trio's failure to bring the writ of mandamus to the proper court, he said.

Cutler said in his brief the Court of Appeals has authority only over writs that enforce its own decisions or preserve its jurisdiction - not writs that force an agency to conduct an investigation.

Wasilewski, however, said the court provided the only speedy forum for his petition. The appeals court required the city's response in seven days; lower courts allow more time, he said.

Again, Cutler said, the appeals court isn't the forum for such a petition.

Wasilewski lamented that the city engaged in "legal maneuvering" in response to his court petition.

"We would have hoped there would have been some discourse outside of court to determine the validity of the petitioners' claims," he said.