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Short and transferred attorneys go at it in court

SHARE Short and transferred attorneys go at it in court

Point - The Salt Lake County Commission's partial dismantling of Doug Short's office last month was an illegal action and a bald usurping of power by the commission.

"(Commissioners) have split Solomon's baby, and in the process killed the county attorney's office" - Short's attorney, David Crapo.Counterpoint - The transfer of eight attorneys from Short's office was well within the commission's authority and necessitated by Short's disregard of a court order directing him to represent the commission and other county officers in lawsuits.

"You can come to only one conclusion: Doug Short has made it impossible for his office to function" - Jay Gurmankin, attorney for the transferred attorneys.

The two sides went at it Thursday before 3rd District Judge Robert Hilder during arguments over Short's legal bid to reverse the transfer. Hilder said he will have a written decision on the matter by Monday.

Crapo said commissioners exercised power that wasn't theirs to exercise by taking away Short's attorneys, and Hilder expressed some sympathy for that point of view. On the other hand, Gurmankin and commission attorney Randy Dryer argued that the chaotic situation in the attorney's office had reached a point where no legal work was being done, and creating a separate "Office of Legal Counsel" was the only practical solution.

Hilder appeared to sympathize with that situation as well, but noted that "legal" and "practical" are not necessarily synonymous.

"I guess the question is, does the law always allow a practical solution?" he mused.

Short and the commission have been going at it for some time over Short's repeated refusal to represent commissioners and other county officers, saying he only represents "the county." That refusal was the putative reason for creating the separate legal office - commissioners said it was cheaper and easier than continually hiring expensive private outside counsel.

However, there's another dynamic at work here. By all accounts, Short's office of 20 attorneys was in disarray, with confusion, lack of direction, contentiousness and distrust reigning. All eight transferred attorneys went willingly, with many more wanting to go as well. The transfer was the commission's way of bringing some order to Short's oper-a-tion.

But, argued Crapo, as an independent separately elected county official (at least for five more months) Short's office is his to run as he pleases - poorly or well - without the commission's inter-fer-ence.

"The county attorney is the legal advisor to the county, not a legal advisor," he said. " . . . The case here is (about) when can you create a new form of government."