A legal opinion sought by the Utah Legislature about the special election to fill former Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s seat in Congress should be made public, the State Records Committee determined Thursday. Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office wrote an opinion but withheld it from the public, citing an ethical concern over a potential conflict of interest with Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who set up the special election over protests from lawmakers. The opinion was a key point in the dispute earlier this year between both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and the GOP governor over who should have established the process for the special election for the remaining year of Chaffetz’s term.
Lawmakers argued they should have been called into special session by the governor to determine how the election should be conducted, and they asked the attorney general’s office for a legal opinion on what they saw as a separation of powers issue.
Despite their frustration, legislative leaders decided against filing a lawsuit to assert their authority over the election and overrule the governor’s decision to assert privilege and block the release of the legal opinion.
The attorney general has not yet decided whether to appeal the records committee’s decision to order the release of the opinion, made after considering a request by the Salt Lake Tribune.