Analysis: Defending the signature-gathering path to the ballot has cost Utah taxpayers more than $200,000

We know about what it has cost the Utah Republican Party to fight SB54 in court over the last four years – upwards of $400,000.

But what has the party’s continuing lawsuits against the dual-pathway candidate law cost state taxpayers?

It’s been Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office that has defended the law (successfully) before two federal court trials, a Utah Supreme Court decision, and now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

After several interviews attempting to place a state price tag on the lawsuit, estimates it to be in the neighborhood of $200,000 in taxpayer money – maybe more.

And should a small group of fervent anti-SB54 GOP State Central Committee members be allowed to appeal the pro-SB54 10th Circuit decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, it will cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars more in AG work – considerably more if the high court takes the case. is told the special GOP Constitutional Defense Committee will soon appeal the three-judge ruling (two-to-one upholding the law) to the whole 10th Circuit Court — what is known as an en banc appeal.

Should the whole court decline to hear the case, then the U.S. Supreme Court would be the next step. is told that veteran litigator Gene Schaerr – who actually worked with the state in its same-sex marriage cases – is working with the special GOP group looking at further appeals.

The state GOP’s $400,000 in SB54 attorney fees nearly bankrupted the party and left it in heavy debt until a private citizen – Entrata’s Dave Bateman – stepped forward to settle and pay the fees personally.

Bateman also says he will fund further SB54 appeals.

It’s not been made public exactly what the GOP attorneys settled for, but in a Facebook post, Bateman said they took a real “haircut” on the final fee agreement – meaning they accepted much less than their original billing of $400,000.

Reyes’ chief of staff Ric Cantrell tells that the only clear, measurable SB54 cost to his office is $45,000 in fees the state paid for attorneys of the Utah Constitution Party.

The UCP was part of the original SB54 lawsuit in federal court. And the court later awarded the UCP those attorneys fees, paid by the state.

There is now a new hourly-accounting system in the AG’s office, which will detail how much time assistant attorneys general spend on their assigned casework – and thus a cost can be attributed to the work.

But that system was not in place during the four years of SB54 defense work by the AG’s office, said Cantrell.

At times, there were three or four assistant AGs working on the state GOP lawsuits – doing research, writing briefs, appearing in court, and so on.

But when the SB54 cases were not active – waiting for court decisions and waiting on the state GOP to file further appeals – those AG attorneys would be working on other legal cases not associated with SB54.

One could argue, as no doubt the GOP Central Committee anti-SB54 advocates would, that state attorneys are drawing their salaries whether they were working on the SB54 cases or not.

And thus there were only court fees and other associated costs to the state GOP’s suit against the state.

But the fact is, it does cost taxpayers dollars when the state is sued, and the AG must defend legislators’ new laws or executive action by the governor’s administration.

The state is often sued over plaintiff’s attorney’s fees. We are seeing former AG John Swallow, acquitted of various criminal charges recently, now asking for $1.5 million in fees for his attorneys.

The court awards, or denies, such fee requests.

And, notes Cantrell, courts have denied the state GOP’s requests for attorneys fees on several occasions.

So at least Utah taxpayers are not paying for the state GOP’s attorneys – thus Bateman’s less-than-$400,000 settlement.

But taxpayers are picking up the tab for the AG’s work on the four-year-old SB54 lawsuits.

Newly-elected state GOP delegates will meet in three weeks in their 2018 nominating convention.

At that time, resolutions and bylaw and constitutional changes will be presented that, if passed by delegates, would likely lead to the state GOP, itself, dropping any further appeals on SB54.

But whether the Bateman-backed group could still have standing and appeal remains to be seen.

And citizens will likely get to vote this November on the Count My Vote citizen initiative that would enshrine into law the basic SB54 law.

So, through internal state GOP reforms, and voters this fall, we could be seeing the end of the SB54 legal fights and costs.

Still, various sources lead UtahPolicy to estimate the state GOP’s fight against SB54 has cost taxpayers around $200,000 – which could grow considerably if the party insider group appeals their up-to-now losing suit further inside the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, or even beyond.