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Utah court enters election flap

Utah court enters election flap

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert told the Utah Supreme Court there's no need to rush into a dispute between two candidates for state treasurer before the June 24 primary election.

Richard Ellis claims Rep. Mark Walker, R-Sandy, offered him a 53 percent raise to remain as deputy treasurer if Ellis would drop out of the race for the Republican nomination.

Walker denies the charges. He has said he told Ellis he would not fire him if Walker becomes treasurer.

Herbert told KSL Radio's Doug Wright that he needs months, not weeks, to properly investigate.

"We have some out there saying, ‘Gosh, if you'd just let us know the truth or the falsehood of the allegation.' That's not my responsibility. I can't do that," Herbert said. "So I'm very careful. I don't want to tip the election one way or the other with some kind of a misunderstanding of my actions.

Ellis wants the Supreme Court to force Herbert to publicly declare whether the complaint deserves a formal investigation by the Attorney General's Office. The court has agreed to hear arguments at 2 p.m. Friday.

"If the claim has any merit, they ought to know that, and if there's no merit to it, they ought to know that, too," Ellis said.

Herbert, Utah's elections officer, has refused to immediately step in, saying he doesn't want to affect the outcome of the Republican primary between Ellis and Walker. Absentee and early voting has already started.

Writing on Herbert's behalf, Assistant Attorney General Thom Roberts told the court Thursday there is no clear statutory duty for the lieutenant governor to act before the primary.

Roberts also said Ellis isn't entitled to emergency relief from the Supreme Court because other options are available if a judge later finds the allegation is true.

"If Walker were to win the primary election and Ellis were to file and prevail in a contest of that primary, Ellis would be declared the winner of the primary," Roberts said.

"He would thereby obtain, in essence, the relief he seeks, i.e., not having any votes for Walker counted," the state attorney said.

Roberts also referred to a statement issued by Herbert on June 6 that explains why he won't make a decision before June 24.

"I do not want my actions to become a commentary or a statement of opinion on any candidate or other involved party," Herbert's statement said. "Based upon the legal procedures specified in statute, there is no way -- regardless of any determination on my part -- to resolve this matter before election day."

Ellis could not immediately be reached for comment on Herbert's court filing late Thursday afternoon.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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