Salt Lake County Attorney Doug Short is fighting back against last week's emasculation of his office.
Last Monday the Salt Lake County Commission transferred almost half the attorneys in Short's office and put them in a newly created "Office of Legal Counsel" outside of Short's control. Short is now challenging that action in court.On Thursday Short filed an "ancillary writ" with the Utah Supreme Court as part of his pending case against the commission, requesting that the transfer of eight attorneys and six staffers be nullified. He says the commission did not have authority to do what it did.
Since the transfer, there have been continual battles between Short and the commission over what cases the transferred attorneys are authorized to work on, their employment status, and what resources they have access to.
Short has attempted variously to lock the attorneys out of their offices, deny them access to computer files and bar them from the legal library - all, so far at least, unsuccessfully.
Commissioners, as well as the transferred attorneys, said the reason for the transfer was because Short so often refused to handle cases against the county, or officers of the county, because of conflicts of interest or because Short says he represented only the county, not county officers.
"It's an unfortunate set of circumstances developing from what I think are rather unusual positions that the county attorney has taken on who his clients are," said transferred William Hyde, formerly one of Short's two chief deputy attorneys.
Now, however, Short is taking a more expansive view of his role, saying the transferred attorneys should transfer all the cases they are working on back to his office and that he has ultimate authority over all client representation.
"He's trying to have it both ways," said commission Chairman Brent Overson, Short's primary antagonist.
What's more, Short regards the transferred attorneys as having resigned from their jobs, meaning they can be replaced.
"This is simply not true," Overson said. "There is no factual, documentary (evidence) or other basis for this assertion. The personnel allocation and the employees themselves were transferred in accordance with" county personnel policy.
Even though the attorneys weren't named as defendants in the ancillary writ, Hyde has requested that they be represented before the Supreme Court anyway.
The Supreme Court has set a hearing on the writ for next Tuesday. Should Short prevail, the jobs of the transferred attorneys would revert back to his office. Since he considers them no longer county employees, however, Short could fill those positions with whomever he wants.
Should the commission prevail, the transferred attorneys will remain in the separate office of legal counsel.
The Supreme Court may also decline to decide the matter, referring it to a lower court.