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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 3 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 01
Utah to hire outside lawyer for marriage case - Federal court sets deadline to file appeal
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Utah to hire outside lawyer for marriage case - Federal court sets deadline to file appeal

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Utah's newly appointed Attorney General got the go-ahead from legislative leaders to hire an outside attorney for the state's appeal of the federal court decision striking down its ban on same-sex marriage. Meanwhile the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to file its opening brief by January 27.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes told state House Speaker Becky Lockhart that it could cost up to $2 million to hire legal help for the appeal. Reyes himself was only appointed to his post on December 23 - three days after federal District Judge Robert Shelby struck down Utah's opposite-sex only marriage law - and he was not sworn in until December 30.

Reyes' predecessor, John Swallow, was forced to resign in a corruption scandal. Reyes reportedly told Lockhart that he needed outside help because he was coming into the case 'in the middle' of litigation.

'We need the best we can get,' Lockhart said after the House Republican leadership met with Reyes. 'He's coming into this, frankly, in the middle.'

Lockhart said she is hearing from other lawmakers that their constituents want the state to fight to preserve the ban on same-sex marriage, even if that means coming up with a substantial amount of cash.

'To go through the court process on an issue, that on a 2-to-1 vote the people of our state felt was important to have in our constitution, I think, is of value,' Lockhart said.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser has yet to talk with Reyes about hiring outside counsel, but will probably be willing to appropriate the funds in the coming legislative session.

'This is a big deal for the Legislature and for Utah,' Niederhauser said. 'We want the details, but my guess is that our body, the Senate Majority Caucus [the Republicans], is going to be very supportive of that idea.'

The conservative think tank Sutherland Institute said it might be willing to pick up the tab for an outside attorney, if it likes the lawyer the Attorney General picks and the legal strategy he or she adopts.

Sutherland Institute president Paul Mero said the money could be easily raised 'all contingent on having the counsel do it our way and actually having competent attorneys.' He added that his group has already called for Reyes to appoint outside counsel in the case.

Mero said, so far, the attorney general's office doesn't seem to 'know how to defend marriage and family.... We just want to win. I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is.'

'We've been very disappointed with counsel in the A.G.'s office to date,' Mero said. 'And we think given that Sean is new in that seat, that outside counsel would make sense.'

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said in a statement that the move would be a poor use of taxpayers' money.

'Defending discrimination while expending millions of taxpayer dollars to do it is beyond explanation,' the HRC said. 'It should be an affront to all Utahans that their hard-earned tax dollars - dollars that should be going into schools, roads or health programs - will instead be used to be on the wrong side of history.'

In any case, Reyes will not have much time to find outside attorneys. In a December 30 order, the Tenth Circuit Court said that Utah's appeal must be filed on January 27, giving the state less than a month to hire lawyers and draft arguments. The Gay and Lesbian couples who sued to overturn state law then have until February 18 to respond, and Utah may file a reply to their arguments by February 25.

'Requests for extension of time are very strongly discouraged,' the court said, 'and will be considered only under extraordinary circumstances.'

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