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AG to name outside counsel for same-sex marriage appeal

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - Jan 15th, 2014 @ 5:56pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The attorney general's office is expected to choose a law firm Thursday to handle Utah's appeal of a court ruling that struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

A dozen lawyers or law firms applied for the job by Tuesday's deadline, said Missy Larsen, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. But the office declined to name them.

An internal committee narrowed the list to two or three finalists, and Attorney General Sean Reyes could announce the winner Thursday morning, Larsen said. The names of the other applicants would also be released at that time, she said.

Along with their qualifications, the firms included a cost estimate in their bids. Reyes earlier estimated outside counsel could cost the state as much as $2 million.

"We don't think the number is going to be near that. The good news is that people are coming up with other ways to fund that with private resources or private donations," Larsen said.

One of them is the Sutherland Institute, a conservative public policy think tank that supports traditional marriage.

"We're involved and that's all I'll say," Sutherland executive director Paul Mero said when asked if he had talked with the attorney general's office about its offer.

"We would be willing to foot the entire bill if we had the right counsel and the right strategy," Mero said. "At this point, I can tell you the Sutherland Institute is involved in conversations about the right counsel and the right strategy."

The lawyers Sutherland wants to see hired applied for the outside counsel contract, Mero said, but he declined to name them.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals set an accelerated schedule for the case. Utah's first written argument is due Jan. 27.

The attorney general's office has been criticized for its handling of the case, particularly that it was slow to ask U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby to put his ruling on hold pending an appeal.

Larsen said an "excellent" team of attorneys in the office are preparing the appeal but lack experience in the appellate and U.S. Supreme courts.

"When you're looking at a Supreme Court case, you really have to have somebody who understands the 10th Circuit Court system but also the Supreme Court system. It's an unusual qualification that you're looking for," she said.

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