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SALT LAKE CITY — There are a lot of elected officials in Salt Lake County government, and they sometimes get in each other's way.
Such a case is playing out through a lawsuit County Auditor Gregory P. Hawkins filed Monday against the county, the nine elected members of the County Council and County Mayor Peter Corroon. The council voted Nov. 15 to move budgeting responsibilities from the auditor's office to the mayor's office, and the auditor wants to block that move.
The idea of changing the budget officer has been bouncing around the county for some time with all the clamor of a fork in a kitchen sink Dispos-All — and Hawkins said two weeks ago he would sue once the measure was formally approved. The suit was filed in 3rd District Court on Monday, with the auditor's office represented by Idaho lawyer Blake Atkin.
The case was filed by an attorney that had not been approved as a conflict attorney by our office. Yeah, that is a violation.
–Sim Gill, SL Co. District Attorney
But the elected auditor, who is also an attorney, went about filing the lawsuit in a way that now has him crossways with another county elected official: Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
"The fact the case was filed by an attorney that had not been approved as a conflict attorney by our office, yeah, that is a violation" of county protocol, Gill said.
The district attorney said he has been aware of the discussion going on about litigation but was not involved in the actual filing. "We found it today," he said Monday. "We got the complaint at the last minute like everybody else did."
"It's a gentleman's conflict," Hawkins said. "But you don't go to the person you're in conflict with and ask for help. Our position is we're in conflict; we're not coming to you."
Hawkins said Gill is either misunderstanding the question about what the district attorney's involvement has been to this point or is being disingenuous by saying the filing caught him off guard. "Sim is a good man. He wasn't surprised. His office called us last week and said, 'Do you need somebody in the office on Friday to prepare for your filing?'"
You don't go to the person you're in conflict with and ask for help.
–Gregory Hawkins, SL Co. Auditor
The case was assigned to 3rd District Judge Sandra Peuler, who met with Gill, Atkin and other attorneys in her chambers Monday afternoon. Hawkins did not attend. Atkin said the judge denied a temporary restraining order the auditor requested, but she did set a Dec. 15 hearing, which he finds satisfactory — the timing should have no impact among staff in the county departments involved.
"We just received assurances from the mayor's office that they're going to wait and not try to disrupt the auditor's office. We're going to take them at their word," Atkin said.
Corroon, also an attorney, reiterated that the County Council's decision to move the budget office was based on a consultant's analysis, and that he supports the move. "Litigation is unfortunate, but my office will follow the legal process in place for this type of situation," he said.