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Salt Lake County Council hires a lawyer to avoid 'partisan warts, wrinkles'

District attorney angered by move, calls it 'offensive'

Salt Lake County Council members opted Tuesday to hire their own personal attorney instead of relying solely on legal advice from the district attorney's office.

Citing "partisan warts and wrinkles" and "tensions with legal advice" over the past several years, Councilman Joe Hatch pushed the idea, which had District Attorney David Yocom up in arms during discussions Monday night and during the final vote Tuesday.

"I can't even explain to you how offensive that is. We do not rely on politics in giving any legal advice," Yocom said. "The only legal advice that counts by law is legal advice from this office. Statutorily, we're required to do it and we do it in a nonpartisan, ethical, legal and upright fashion."

Yocom urged the council not to pursue its own legal counsel apart from his office, describing the unexpected move by Hatch as an ambush filled with "rancor and emotionalism."

Yocom, who will not run for his position again next year, questioned whether the council could legally acquire a separate attorney unless there was a proven conflict of interest with the district attorney's office.

"If you step foot into the area that is prescribed by law or our office to do, then we have a problem," he said.

Hatch, however, said he simply wanted a "friend" who had the council as first allegiance rather than the district attorney. Many times, he said, it would be more convenient to have someone at the council's "beck and call" to answer legal questions before ordinances receive a final opinion from the district attorney's office.

Hatch pointed to one particular incident this year: He was working on an employee's association ordinance and the district attorney's office said it was not legal.

"I now see the wicked end of what I see as a real problem," Hatch said. "They would work for us, are answerable to us at our direction as opposed to at the district attorney's direction."

Hatch's proposal is to bring on a new full-time attorney for the council at about $120,000 a year, including benefits. Hatch originally asked for two similar attorneys for the mayor's office, but chief administrative officer Doug Willmore said Mayor Peter Corroon is not interested in counsel outside of the district attorney's office.