Concerned about the damage antitrust allegations have had upon the University of Utah's reputation with lawmakers, Arthur Smith presented an angry letter to legislative leaders Friday accusing Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam of "declaring guilt" without evidence or a hearing.
Not only does Smith, president of the U., find it "deplorable" that the university has been publicly, unfairly branded by Van Dam as guilty, he further condemns Van Dam for failing to inform U. officials regarding exactly what they may have done wrong."There is no evidence that the university has committed violations of federal antitrust laws," Smith wrote.
In his letter, Smith says he is referring to Van Dam's comments published in a Jan. 11 Deseret News article. In that story, Van Dam accused the university of refusing to cooperate in the attorney general's office's investigation into the antitrust violations between the state-owned University Hospital and Primary Children's Medical Center.
Van Dam was responding to an accusation by House Speaker Craig Moody, R-Sandy, that the attorney general's office should have resolved the matter "in-house" - without involving the U.S. Department of Justice. Van Dam stated his office did not involve federal agents until his requests for documents from the U. had been ignored for more than a year and a half.
Smith condemns Van Dam's comments as "false, misleading and inappropriate commentary by an official statutorily charged with the responsibility to advise and defend the university."
He states that U. officials have conducted their own extensive investigation and have not found evidence of any criminal conduct at the university.
The president emphatically stated he believes the U. will eventually be vindicated.
Detailing dates of meetings between the U. and the attorney general's office in a five-page document, Smith firmly concluded, "We will conform without delay with any authoritative directive to change any aspect of our operations in order to ensure that we are in full compliance with the law."
During an impromptu news conference Friday, Van Dam reaffirmed his stand: The U. did not cooperate. The federal government needed to become involved.
"The response (by Smith) is very heavy-duty, and I'm a little surprised at that," Van Dam said. "All I said was the matter needed to be looked at. That was my position then and it's my position now."
The attorney general's office could not handle the case, Van Dam said, calling cooperation with the U.S. Department of Justice, "a common, everyday practice for us."
"I'm being accused of being the bad guy because I brought the federal government in," he said.
He said the Justice Department was brought in after his office's investigation stalled. "We did investigate it for a year and a half and we came to a dead end," he said.
He said the university was not cooperative with the attorney general's investigation. Although some 7,000 documents were turned over, investigators never got the "key pieces of information" they believed they needed.
The attorney general blamed a lack of resources in his office as well as lack of cooperation from the university for the standstill. He said although the university had guidelines for operating the two medical facilities from former Attorney General David Wilkinson, "they may or may not have taken that advice."
He said he has been "attacked" by Moody and university officials. Asked if he was angry at the university for the response, Van Dam said, "I'm not mad at them now. I'm upset."
Van Dam said he hadn't anticipated the apparent scope of the Justice Department investigation. "I'm as surprised as anyone it has taken this long and it has been so extensive," he said.
Talking to reporters after his meeting with legislative leaders, Smith said there "isn't a shred of evidence" to support Van Dam's allegations of failure to cooperate.
Smith's message to Van Dam: "Tell us what to do and we'll fix it. But we've received no advice."
Calling the expense and potential reputation damage to the U. over the antitrust investigation the Legislature's "biggest nightmare," Moody said Van Dam will have to answer to lawmakers Tuesday. He is scheduled to appear before House and Senate party caucuses.
"I expect this to be the sole issue," Moody said.