These three numbers -- 38-15-1 -- represent the number of people you need to pursuade to get a law passed in Utah -- 38 members of the House of Representatives, 15 members of the Senate and one governor. I learned that seemingly small number sequence Tuesday at the Utah State Bar Day at the Legislature.
The Utah State Bar holds this introduction to the Legislature every year in the middle of the annual 45- day session. Representatives from all three branches of government speak to a room full of suits.
Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court Matthew B. Durrant spoke for the judiciary. Lt. Gov. Greg Bell appeared on behalf of the executive branch. President of the Senate Wayne Niederhauser and Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart spoke on behalf of the legislative branch.
As an attorney, my inclinations and heart were definitely with the judicial branch as the Durant extolled the virtues of an independent judiciary. Lockhart, on the other hand, stated that she viewed her role as a legislator to challenge existing constitutional precedent through legislation.
I immediately sought solace in Durrant's comments extolling the founder's wisdom in creating checks and balances between the branches. The thought of unchecked challenges to the Constitution sent a chill through my lawyerly bones.
Visiting the Legislature as a lawyer is a lot like being ushered into the chaotic, noisy and the-not-nearly-as-clean-as-you-think-it-should-be kitchen of your favorite restaurant. The laws you argue and interpret in front of judges as the backstop against societal disintegration are made in the turbulent backrooms of representative democracy.
I was beginning to despair until John Fellows, the general counsel for the entire Utah State Legislature, took the podium. Finally, I would hear the voice of a fellow attorney, traveling back from the alien legislative land to help me understand this strange political world.
Fellows knows attorney-speak, so he gave us a list of five things to remember when you are dealing with the Legislature. In reviewing his list, I find that is relevant to the general populace, not just attorneys:
* Like it or not, the Utah Legislature represents the views and perspectives of the citizens of Utah.
* The Legislature is the essence of representative democracy. It is not a courtroom.
* The key to success in dealing with the Legislature is relationships, not logic.
* Legislators deserve respect for the office they hold, if for no other reason.
* Personal credibility coupled with knowledge and humility yields power and influence.
One story Fellows told captured nearly all five elements. The Legislative General Counsel drafts the bills for the Legislature. One representative brought in a bill that he wanted drafted. The bill, while reflecting the views of his constituency, was clearly unconstitutional to the lawyerly mind.
Because the Legislature isn't a courtroom, the unconstitutionality of the bill didn't matter, so the attorney drafted the bill. The attorney assigned to the bill explained that she would need to put a notation on the bill that it was most likely unconstitutional. The legislator exploded and threatened to sue his attorney if the notation was attached. The attorney, respecting the legislator, explained to the would-be legislator-litigant, that she was, in fact, his attorney and even if he did sue her, she was protected by governmental immunity statutes that the Legislature had passed to protect their own attorneys.
So what did I take away from my day at the Legislature? Vote for legislators who believe like you do. Foster a relationship with your legislator so you can wield influence. Remember that law creation, law enforcement and law interpretation are products of flawed humans just like yourself, and it only takes 54 of them to put a law on the books.
E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at
801-392-8200 or email@example.com.