Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Buttars' s slow-moving ethics violation

Remember that highly inappropriate letter Sen. Buttars sent out to a judge on Senate stationary? Well, it turns out my praise for Sen. Pres. Valentine's stripping of Buttars's chairmanship should have been more qualified:
In it, Buttars reminded Pullan that, as chairman of the confirmation committee, he had advocated on Pullan's behalf and was embarrassed by a decision he rendered against Gibby. He accused the judge of "bias" and questioned his integrity.
Pullan entered the letter into the court record. It also came to the attention of the Judicial Council, the panel chaired by Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham that oversees Utah's courts, which sent the letter to Senate leaders in June.
"We gave the letter to President Valentine for the Senate to deal with internally," said Richard Schwermer, assistant administrator of the Administrative Office of the Utah Courts. The council did not provide any recommendation with the letter, he said. "If we have issues, we let him know. . . . It was an issue. We let him know about it."
A spokesman for Valentine said in a statement late Tuesday that Buttars' letter was a "private expression of disappointment to a judge he helped confirm."
It was an exercise of the senator's First Amendment rights, and made no threats and demanded no action, said Ric Cantrell.
"The scope and impact of that letter changed dramatically when it was published statewide. Senate leadership was concerned the letter may have an impact in the judicial application and confirmation process," the statement said.
I am sorry, but that doesn't pass the laugh test in spin doctoring. Here's why:
Wendell Gibby [the "longtime acquaintance of Buttars" on whose behalf the erstwhile Chairman wrote the infamous letter] would be surprised if Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, punished Sen. Chris Buttars over a letter the latter sent a judge last May, chiding him for a ruling over a land dispute involving the Mapleton developer and city officials.
After all, Gibby said, Valentine gave the letter his nod of approval before Buttars, R-West Jordan, sent it.

"It would seem odd to me that Valentine would sack him for something he approved," Gibby said.

Moreover, the letter wasn't a "private expression of disappointment," it was a veiled threat laced with accusations of ideological bias. Since time and time again it is clear that Sen. Buttars doesn't know the first thing about the law, and more importantly, because it is unconstitutional (separation of powers anyone?), Buttars is the last person who should be telling a judge how to rule in a case.

The political scope and impact of the letter changed dramatically when it got released to the public, I think it is pretty clear that they didn't care about intimidating judges when they tried to sweep the letter under the rug when it was first brought to their attention.
Senate leaders had known for months about Sen. Chris Buttars' letter scolding a state judge who ruled against his friend, but let him continue to head the committee that screens judicial appointments until the letter hit the news media.
[Utah State] Bar President Lowry Snow said there was enough concern about the letter that the bar's board of commissioners scheduled a conference call Monday to discuss what to do about the issue. Shortly before the call took place, however, Valentine announced Buttars had been replaced as chairman by Sen. Greg Bell, R.-Fruit Heights.
Asked whether Buttars' removal as chairman satisfied the Bar's concerns, Snow said, "We believe it's a step in the right direction."
I am sure that was just a "coincidence." And getting the State Bar upset is worlds away from having the local chapter of the NCAAP or ACLU on your case, it is a big deal. Afterall, Sen. President Valentine is an attorney.

Sen. Buttars is becoming a burden and embarrassment on the majority in the Senate and Utah Republicans in general daily. This story has morphed from "is it racism?" to "is he unethical?" Anytime the story stays alive and changes angles, you know you can't shake this bad coverage. If I was Sen. President Valentine, I would demand Sen. Buttars not run for reelection or threaten to strip him of his committee assignments and possibly primary him. With the possibility that Utah Democrats might get enough seats to filibuster in the Senate next time thanks to vouchers, the last thing Senate Republicans need is questions about their ethics and overbearing nature.

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