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REDSKIN FANS CAN KEEP LICENSE PLATES - FOR NOW

Attorney Brian Barnard has handled them all: cases dealing with AIDS, city council prayer and the Elks' now-famous choice between women and wine.

But he didn't get a lot of letters and the phone calls until he complained to the state that a REDSKIN vanity plate offended him.He asked the state to revoke such a plate and any similar plates referring to American Indians in what he believed was an offensive fashion.

Wednesday, the state refused, to the relief of at least three Washington Redskins fans. In a brief letter to Barnard, Motor Vehicle Division Director Rick Leimbach said the state will not revoke the three plates in question: REDSKIN, REDSKN and RDSKIN.

Leimbach didn't explain the reason for his decision, but his letter did tell Barnard he could appeal that decision to the Utah State Tax Commission.

Barnard will file that appeal, he said, if only to keep those cards and letters coming. "This is the strongest reaction I've had to anything I've done in the past 10 years."

This can only mean the Elks are not good letter writers. Barnard's most controversial case has been a civil rights suit against an Elks Lodge in St. George for not letting a woman join. The Utah Supreme Court ruled that the lodge was violating Utah's civil rights law and, hence, should lose its liquor license. The ruling affected all Elks lodges through the state and is forcing Moose lodges to review their policies.

The public's response to the license plate issue has been running 2-1 in favor of sports fans, the attorney said. "I got probably 15 phone calls from people telling me to get a life. Then I got seven or eight letters from Native Americans saying, `You are absolutely right. The term is offensive and we're glad you are doing something about it.' "

Barnard asked state officials to contact American Indians before making the decision, he said. "I can't tell from the letter whether they did that or not."

Tax commission spokeswoman Janice Perry said she doubted that American Indians were contacted. The motor vehicle division only looked at the issue procedurally and decided the question was best answered by the tax commission, she said. "Basically, they decided to kick it upstairs."

Perry stressed that this decision is only an intermediary step. "This isn't a final decision."

Barnard being Barnard, he will consider suing the state if he loses his appeal before the tax commission, he said. The attorney isn't certain whether he has to find an American Indian client to challenge the plate or whether he has legal standing to challenge it himself.

He also had a parting shot for his critics: "I have a life. I've had one for some time and I think it's rather productive."