It didn't take long Friday for the Utah Supreme Court to deny a state treasurer candidate's request that Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert be forced to make a decision on an elections complaint before the June 24 primary election.
Justices ruled against the candidate, Richard Ellis, about 1 1/2 hours after hearing arguments. Ellis wanted the court to order Herbert to decide now whether his complaint against his primary opponent, Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, merits further investigation.
Ellis has alleged that Walker offered him the opportunity to keep his job as chief deputy state treasurer at a higher salary if he dropped out of the race. Walker has denied the allegations.
The lieutenant governor has said he deferred deciding whether to refer Ellis' May 30 complaint to the Attorney General's Office for possible prosecution because he was concerned about affecting the outcome of the election.
In a single paragraph ruling, the court stated while Herbert must "gather information and determine if a special investigation is necessary," he has "considerable discretion over the timing of his decision. ..."
The court ruling written by Chief Justice Christine Durham also stated he "has no discretion to refuse to do so within a reasonable time" but does have "broad discretion over the methodology used in the process and the factors considered."
Ellis said he was disappointed about the ruling. Not being able to let voters know if the lieutenant governor believed his complaint against Walker warranted further investigation may have an impact on the primary election, he said.
"I guess we'll never know. I've always tried to say this was not done for political means. The issue to me is my personal integrity," Ellis said. Now, Ellis said, he may take his complaint directly to prosecutors.
Walker, though, said Ellis needs to forget about his complaint. "His mudslinging and schoolyard antics have gotten out of hand. I think that was shown today," Walker said. "I'm calling on him to pull this and start a real campaign."
Herbert's chief of staff, Joe Demma, said he was "very pleased that the court supported the lieutenant governor's position." Demma said as a result of the court decision, Ellis' complaint will be dealt with "in short order" after the election.
Ellis' attorney, Chandler Thompson, argued before the court that the case was about whether Herbert could withhold a decision for political reasons. Thompson said Herbert had never asked for more time to gather information about the allegations.
Voters are entitled to know Herbert's determination before the election, Thompson said, acknowledging that forcing a decision means that Ellis' complaint could be declared frivolous by the lieutenant governor.
"This chips should be allowed to fall where they may," Thompson said.
Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts, who represented the lieutenant governor, said Herbert was concerned that any action taken on the complaint before the primary "might be misinterpreted" by voters.
As the state's chief elections officer, the lieutenant governor is only responsible for reviewing election complaints to determine if they warrant further investigation by the Attorney General's Office. It's up to prosecutors to decide if charges should be filed.
But Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins said all that could be explained to voters by the lieutenant governor and others. "You have to give the voters the opportunity not to be stupid," Wilkins said.
Earlier Friday, the court denied an attempt by Walker to intervene in the case.
Ellis, who narrowly avoided being eliminated from the race at the state GOP convention last month, has the backing of the current state treasurer, Ed Alter, who is stepping down after 28 years in office.
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