Allegations that lawmakers threatened to scuttle a judicial pay raise unless a 3rd District judge reduced the $439,000 fee going to thrift depositor lobbyists are not true, legislators and sources said.
Court documents filed by lobbyists David Irvine and Georgia Peterson of Research Associates Inc. contend certain legislators during the 1989 session threatened to bar any judicial salary increase unless Judge David Young made "substantial reductions in the Research Associates' fees in the above case."While some lawmakers and sources close to the judicial pay-raise issue said the lobbyists' fees and $5.8 million fee awarded to depositors' attorneys angered many legislators, it never became a serious roadblock to the pay-raise bill.
The proposed bill would have increased judges' salaries by 33 percent, but a 15 percent increase is what passed on the final day of the legislative session this year.
"It's not true," Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said of the allegation by Research Associates.
When legislation passed last year settling a lawsuit between the state and thrift depositors, Hillyard was among the vocal opponents to taxpayers money filling the pockets of attorneys, accountants and lobbyists who helped the depositors.
Lawmakers tried to save political face by recommending Young cap the attorneys fees at $1.25 million.
"I supported the judges salary increase," Hillyard said. "As I visited other colleagues and pushed for the increase some of them said they were concerned about increasing judges' salaries if they can't follow legislation" recommending a cap on the depositors' legal fees.
Among those upset by the attorneys' fees is Senate President Arnold Christensen, R-Sandy. But he called legislators' comments about holding up the judicial pay raise "hollow threats."
"There's nothing wrong with talking about it," Christensen said. "They threaten all kinds of things up there in the Legislature. But no one can do anything like that. It would just be a hollow threat unless someone has a lot more power than I have."
One source said Christensen's anger over the legal and lobbying fees was a concern because of his leadership position, "but I couldn't say it was a sticking point" to passing the judicial pay raises.
An attorney for the depositors said he is "alarmed" by the allegations and believes they should be investigated. But he questioned whether Young was in fact pressured by legislators' concerns.
"There is no way we believe Young was or in any way could be influenced by anything like this," attorney Robert Stolebarger said. "We're just upset that this kind of pressure has been brought to bear on him in the first place."
After issuing his order in December approving the legal fees, Young appointed a special master to examine the depositors' bills incurred while negotiating a settlement with the state. Some 15,000 thrift depositors filed a class-action suit against the state to recover savings lost in the collapse of Utah's thrift and loan industry.
The appointed Salt Lake attorney has recommended reducing the attorneys' fee to $3.9 million and the Research Associates bill from $438,850 to $304,080. A hearing on the matter is scheduled Monday.
An ethics probe into the allegations has not been launched by the Legislature and probably won't be. Bud Scruggs, Gov. Norman Bangerter's chief of staff, said he looked into the matter two months ago and concluded nothing improper happened.
"There may have been some idle threats made, but I could not substantiate anything wrong," he said.
One source said he heard Irvine would file a complaint with the Utah State Bar against an attorney who may have been one of the legislators making the threats.
Irvine wasn't available for comment, and the bar counsel said it couldn't confirm or deny the rumor because such complaints are confidential.