The Utah Supreme Court should decide now who controls appointments to the Utah Transit Authority board, an attorney representing seven members of the board argued Tuesday.
Alan L. Sullivan, who represents half of the board, asked the high court to rule that Salt Lake County is entitled to seven appointments under state law. Therefore, he said, the county should be able to seat former state Sen. Stephen Rees in place of board member Manuel Romero.Sullivan filed the petition for "extraordinary relief" with the justices after 3rd District Judge Homer F. Wilkinson granted an op-ponent's request for a preliminary injunction last November.
The injunction, sought by attorneys representing the other half of the board and Salt Lake City officials, allows Romero to sit on the board despite the expiration of his term last summer.
Wilkinson said at the time that he had an opinion about the law but refused to interpret it. "The Legislature created the problem. They can un-create it in 60 days (next session)," he said.
Sullivan argued that ruling is, in effect, an "irreparable violation" of the county's right to representation on the board.
In other words, Romero's philosophical bent doesn't always comport with that held by his clients. And the longer he sits on the board, the more his influence will color decisions that could effect the future of mass transit.
"Mr. Romero continues to vote to this day on important issues despite the fact that his term expired last August," Sullivan said. "The (Supreme) Court can answer the questions now . . . the public and the board are entitled to a legallyconstituted board."
The justices spent more time questioning Sullivan about whether the issue was appropriately before them rather than discussing the merits of the case.
"Why should we do anything other than order (Wilkinson) to decide the case?" asked Chief Justice Michael D. Zimmerman.
He noted the UTA board voted last September to postpone debate about the appointment issue for six months - essentially believing the Legislature would fix it.
"That belies your current argument of urgency," Zimmerman said, referring to Sullivan's petition for extraordinary relief.
Sullivan acknowledged the board did take such a vote in September. But they didn't believe Romero would continue to weigh in on decisions, he said.
Salt Lake City Attorney Roger Cutler and attorney Dale A. Kimball, who represents Romero and the other six members of the board, argued the high court should deny the petition and allow Wilkinson's ruling to stand, thus letting the Legislature deal with the question.
Alternatively, if the justices intend to decide the merits of the case, they should rule the city is entitled to two appointments, Kim-ball said.
The high court is expected to issue an order either denying, granting or granting in part the petition within the next week.