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IS THE U. EXEMPT FROM ANTITRUST LAWS?

The University of Utah's claim that it is exempt from federal antitrust laws is a premature conclusion and oversimplification of law, the Utah attorney general's office says.

Attorneys in the office further criticize the U. for its refusal to cooperate with an ongoing anti-trust investigation with the U.S. Justice Department.John K. Morris, legal counsel to the U.'s president, said Tuesday that he is asking the U.S. Justice Department to review a newly discovered unpublished 1990 opinion by a federal judge that Morris contends puts the university beyond the reach of antitrust laws.

Until the justice department responds, the university is suspending any further cooperation of documents pertaining to the antitrust investigation. The university will attempt to agree on a "less-burdensome document" with the federal agents that is consistent with the position "as an exempt entity," Morris said.

Morris hopes the 1990 ruling will place the university, its constituents and its employees beyond the reach of the investigation - and, ultimately, save taxpayers millions of dollars through a speedy resolution of the investigation.

But Attorney General Paul Van Dam contends the university and the attorney general's office knew of the 1990 ruling two years ago. "This case is no surprise to us or the university. It was brought to our attention early in 1990 by the U.'s counsel (who was not Morris at that time)," Van Dam said Tuesday.

Van Dam will not address the specifics of the case because it's under investigation, but he said the 1990 law never kept the U. from cooperating with the investigation before.

Interpreting the 1990 case, Van Dam said that case addresses a situation involving an agreement between two colleges within the university. "But we have the situation now where the university and two outside, private entities - Primary Children's Medical Center and a doctors' union - signed an agreement."

There is clear state and federal law if a state entity acts outside of its authority it's not protected, Van Dam said.

"If an individual does something - even though that individual works within the university - he or she may not be protected given those exceptions. An investigation is certainly an appropriate way to find out if the U. is within the scope of immunity or not."

According to Morris, the opinion by Chief Judge Bruce Jenkins of the U.S. District Court for Utah holds that the university is an arm of the state, acting in its sovereign capacity and is, therefore, not affected by federal antitrust laws.