After months of deliberation Governor Gary Herbert announced the selection of Salt Lake attorney John Pearce to his staff as general counsel--A top consigliore to the Guv, who will offer legal advice on numerous state issues.---
According to a nice Trib piece here, the deliberation was a tossup in recent weeks between Pearce and Brent Ward, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.
Picking Pearce for this key post gives Herbert not only an attorney with significant chops when it comes media, antitrust and securities law—but it’s also a hell of a gesture of bipartisanship.
Pearce isn’t exactly a raging liberal, but he has found himself representing the occasional progressive cause looking to take a swipe at some of Utah’s political sacred cows. Take for example his representing the Safe Haven initiative which in 2003 struggled to allow a ballot initiative for Utahns to ban carrying of concealed weapons in schools and churches. Or a 2002 battle for a ballot initiative for taxing certain radioactive nuclear wastes in the state that was defeated at the voting booth.
More recently Pearce has been kicking ass for transparency when in 2008 he helped the Salt Lake Tribune win a records battle that forced the operators of Crandall Canyon mine to disclose documents showing warning signs of the mine’s structural integrity before its 2007 collapse.
As general counsel, Pearce will be going over every bill the Legislature passes to discuss it’s constitutionality with the Gov before he might sign it into law. So it’s comforting for us in the wretched 4th Estate that a media watchdog like Pearce will be vetting some of these bills.
If I were to make a wild guess, I would say the Attorney General’s sponsored bill in the 2009 session to get rid of the balancing test—the test that allows records to be classified public if it’s argued the records release benefits the public—from certain new categories like legal proceedings.
Given the whining the AG’s office has made about its office being “flooded” with records requests, I suspect that bill will be making a comeback in 2010. If it makes it through the Legislature again it will be interesting to see what Pearce recommends on that one and ones like it.