On one side is Utah's attorney general.
Democrat Jan Graham is the state's top law enforcer. She is elected by Utahns to use her best legal judgment to decide how to handle a host of controversial issues. She believes she must act independently; she is a watchdog and can't operate effectively if under someone else's thumb.On the other side is Utah's top elected official, Gov. Mike Leavitt, who must be a voice for his state when the need arises. He must be able to say: "As a state, we do support this," or "We certainly don't support that."
He must be able to decide when Utah should publicly declare an opinion on a variety of divisive topics being battled in courts throughout the country.
On this point, Graham and Leavitt lately can't seem to get along.
A power struggle that surfaced about the best way for Utah to lend support to states opposing the contentious topic of same-sex marriage has escalated to the point the Legislature must decide who is right.
Despite Leavitt's direct request, Graham did not file an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, in a case before the Vermont Supreme Court involving a claim for same-sex marriage.
The brief was of poor legal quality, she said, and was inappropriate for a variety of reasons.
Now the chance to file the brief is gone, but accusations and charges have flown between Graham and Leavitt throughout the month of May. Officials have noted the mean-spiritedness of the accusations on both sides.
And in this election year, the conflict is also serving as political fodder: GOP leaders have hammered Graham's decision on several occasions.
"I don't think anyone is terribly concerned that they aren't getting along," said Rep. Christine Fox-Finlinson, majority leader in Utah's House of Representatives. "But we do feel the attorney general should implement the policy of the state, not the policy of that office.
"We'd like to see a clarification of the roles," she said.
Leavitt asked for as much in his monthly televised press conference Wednesday.
"Does the attorney general constitute a fourth branch of government or is it the the attorney general's job to represent the state's officials?" Leavitt asked.
It has to be one way or the other, he said. "That's the problem. It's something the Legislature needs to sort through, and I think they will."
It's not the first time the Legislature will have evaluated the issue. Three years ago, the Constitutional Revision Commission decided not to expand the legal role of the Legislature and the governor to the detriment of the Attorney General's Office.
Without stating specifics, Leavitt said Wednesday there are still things the Legislature can do to define the two jobs. The governor's position is certain:
"The (state) constitution is clear that the governor is the chief executive officer," Leavitt said Wednesday. "The attorney general is assigned by the constitution to represent the state in court."
Although Graham did not want to comment on Leavitt's statements Wednesday, she has steadfastly maintained it is vital her office have autonomy.
"I believe decisions about legal matters should be based on the law and the facts, not political consequences," Graham said recently.
During the flap, Graham has reiterated that she, and only she, will be the attorney for the state of Utah, as the state constitution provides.
This philosophical difference leads to problems, said Byron Harward, a former lawmaker and respected expert on state law.
"When the chief policy-maker wants to make a policy statement, and the person who is supposed to implement that statement considers himself independent and doesn't agree, then all you have is a fight, which we have all the time."
As Harward see it, both Graham and Leavitt are right.
"I think our system is flawed. I think the attorney general is doing just what she thinks she ought to do - which is very possibly what she constitutionally is directed to do."
But it's not effective or productive, Harward said.
"We shouldn't have the state of Utah fighting about what the state of Utah's policy is," Harward said.
The law can be corrected, Harward said.
"They've both got valid arguments," he said. "I think you can identify the functions in a way that's a lot cleaner; in some way that allows the attorney general to be independent and not be enforcing policy for the state."
The subject came up in discussions last week, Fox-Finlinson said.
Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, said earlier this month lawmakers will evaluate statutes and the constitution "to see if somehow Leavitt could get the authority to pursue lawsuits on his own."
The irony is that the two officials have similar views about marriages between people of the same sex - it's wrong, and it's not good for Utah.
The conflict occurred in the implementation, and Graham's reasoning is "indefensible," Leavitt said Wednesday.
Their relationship should work as it did when Utah wanted to join other states in a war against tobacco companies. Graham went to Leavitt, told him the issue and asked for Leavitt's approval. Same with the recent case against Microsoft and Bill Gates.
Graham called the governor, and asked for his approval, which he gave, Leavitt said. "That's the way an executive and an attorney should work."