SALT LAKE CITY — A special meeting of the Legislative Management Committee has been called for Wednesday to look at legal options for forcing the release of an attorney general's opinion on the special 3rd Congressional District election.
The opinion was sought by lawmakers earlier this year during their battle with Gov. Gary Herbert over what the Legislature's role should be in setting up the special election to fill the vacancy left when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz stepped down.
The governor, who set up the election without calling lawmakers into special session to approve the process, blocked the release of the opinion by Attorney General Sean Reyes by declining to waive attorney-client privilege.
The State Records Committee, hearing a request by the Salt Lake Tribune, voted last week to order release of the opinion. The attorney general's office has not said whether it will appeal, although Herbert's office called for a court review.
With the special election for the remaining year of Chaffetz's term set for Nov. 7, legislative leaders said it was time to deal with their concerns over what they see as a separation of powers issue.
Back in June, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said senators "were in favor of getting the (opinion), but at the time, didn't want to get into a legal battle and disrupt the election."
Niederhauser said the legislative leaders who serve on the management committee expect to authorize the Legislature's legal counsel "to begin pursuing options for us" that include taking the attorney general to court.
That could mean taking the case directly to the Utah Supreme Court, although the Senate president said that if the attorney general does not appeal the State Records Committee decision and releases the opinion, that won't be necessary.
"We're fine with that. We just feel like that statue allows us to get these kinds of opinions from the attorney general," Niederhauser said, something that may need to be clarified in the 2018 Legislature.
"We really don't want to get in a legal battle, I can tell you that. We don't want to do that. We just want to get the (opinion) so we can get the information," he said. "We think the attorney general's opinion on this issue is very valuable."
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he anticipated the management committee wouldn't take action that "launches anything. But I think we'll be authorizing moving forward to obtain that (opinion)."7 comments on this story
Hughes said it has always been the intent of the Legislature to go after the opinion.
Reyes had cited ethical concerns over a potential conflict of interest because his office had advised the governor and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who oversees elections, on how the vacancy should be filled.
The attorney general's office had no comment Tuesday on the upcoming management committee meeting.
Paul Edwards, the governor's deputy chief of staff, said no notification of litigation has been received. "We do not comment on potential or ongoing litigation," he said.