"Be careful with your communications" is the message that Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, gave Wednesday. He has brought up the issue repeatedly during the GOP's closed-door caucuses. "We live in a fishbowl and everybody is constantly looking through the fishbowl. Remember what your communications mean."What does that mean, 'Your communications mean pissing me off?'
"Just look at the statement," Valentine said, referring to a posting to the Senate majority's blog that stated while Buttars was exercising his "right to communicate his opinion privately with another public official" in his letter to Pullan, once the letter became public, Senate leaders were concerned it "may now have a negative effect on the confirmation process of new judges."Or is he telling his colleagues to not be so stupid as to write a letter on Senate stationary when they are pissed? Instead, use the phone. That way, you can "have a different recollection" when confronted with your intimidation tactics. Folks this scandal isn't going away just because Buttars is not the chairman anymore (he still is on the committee).
Valentine said Wednesday he is defending Buttars' right to express himself. "I don't have control over what any individuals do in any body. But what we do have is we do have a process that says, 'Be reasonable, be responsible with your communications."'
The Senate president said Buttars "really, truly believed that there had been an injustice. He felt like he should communicate that belief. He didn't call for action, he didn't say, 'I'm going to get you.' He said, 'I'm really disappointed."'
"Any ex-parte communication attempting to influence a decision in an ongoing case is inappropriate," said State Bar executive director John Baldwin.Balwin is right, these Senators still haven't learned the real lesson.
Bar president V. Lowry Snow has indicated that Buttars' removal from the chairmanship does address part of the bar's concerns.
Baldwin said the bar feels there is a need for "broader education" among lawmakers of the importance of a fair and impartial judicial system. He said the bar was not about to take specific issue with Buttars' letter but that any appearance of inappropriate influence on a judge should be dealt with.
There are indications that Senate leadership knew about Buttars' letter as early as last June. The Senate majority blog posting states that Valentine and others saw an early draft and that the Senate president "offered some suggested edits."Inquiring taxpayers want to know, what kind of edits were they? "I think you should put a comma there" or "you forgot to call him a 'liberal activist judge' for ruling against your friend" or "make sure you hint at his confirmation process so he understands how much power you have over him?" Even it those "suggested edits" were in the nature of 'tone it down,' they all should have known better than to allow Buttars to mail that letter after he had shown it to them.
This wasn't one rouge Senate chairman on one of the most important and powerful committees on Utah's Capitol Hill, this was the collective 'wisdom' of a number of Utah Republican State Senators, apparently including the Sen. President himself--a member of the state bar.
More importantly, Buttars letter puts his terrible legislative proposals in a more sinister light:
As co-chairman of the Judicial Retention Election Task Force, Buttars spent last summer calling for change in the way judges are evaluated and retained.The whole point of the bill, it is now clear despite others' previous demurring, is for the Utah legislature to make the state Judiciary their wholly controlled subsidiary. If legislators get to set up the evaluation methods and be on committees that evaluate judges, and their evaluation depends whether a judge rules in favor of a friend of theirs, then we have no justice system. It really is that simple. Thankfully, Sen. Buttars also said stupid racist stuff, so hopefully his bills will become untouchable. Gov. Huntsman already has effectively shot down the anti-domestic registry bill by vowing to veto it. Now he needs to take a stand on behalf of an independant judiciary.
He sponsored a bill, SB105, that would take the job of evaluating judicial performance away from fellow judges and place the task in the hands of a new bipartisan commission whose members would be appointed by the three branches of government.
Many judges, including [Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine] Durham, have said there is nothing wrong with the current evaluation system and do not believe the bill is necessary.