Bob Bernick’s notebook: Guarding against the blowback from anti-Romney resolution

Bernick Mug 01

For those who watch the Utah Legislature closely — as I do — it was interesting to see that the legislative attorney who wrote Rep. Phil Lyman’s “censure” resolution condemning U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s vote to impeach GOP President Donald Trump was John Fellows.

He’s listed as the drafting attorney for Lyman’s HJR19, which “censures” Romney, but which GOP legislative leaders say will not come out of House Rules and is basically dead.

Fellows is the top legislative attorney, who represents the Legislature in legal proceedings, especially before the Utah Supreme Court.

He directs and oversees all bill drafting by the 23 associate generals counsel.

Fellows, as he almost always is, was circumspect when I asked him why he personally wrote Lyman’s resolution — which calls Romney about every name except traitor.

“I don’t draft many bills myself,” said Fellows. But he said he decided to assign himself the Lyman anti-Romney resolution.

“Why?” I asked.

Several moments pass, Fellows thinking how to answer that one.

“It was prudent,” he said.

“Why?” I asked again, sounding a bit like a two-year-old.


So, I’ll answer for him — that’s what political commentators do:

I actually think it was kind of Fellows to protect other — much younger — attorneys on his staff.

Fellows is the old dog of the legislative attorney’s office — with the title of “general counsel.” He will likely retire out of the Legislature when he can’t stand it anymore — my interpretation, not his.

Some of the younger attorneys on his staff may well leave the office at some point, looking for better-paying jobs in the private sector, maybe even look at entering politics themselves.

If they had had to write the Lyman anti-Romney resolution — and have their name on it for all time — then there could be political blowback.

I’m not saying Romney himself would hold a grudge against the attorney who wrote all that terrible stuff about him — they would just be doing their job.

But some other Romney-backers, in the days ahead, maybe looking at the work of some legislative attorney looking for a job and say: “I don’t need that kind of lawyer working for me.”

I won’t repeat here all of the allegations Lyman made in his resolution, nor the language used against Romney.

Fellows did say that he did not come up with almost any of the resolution’s language, that was provided by Lyman, and Fellows doesn’t know where it came from.

Fellows just put it into the “whereas” and “be it resolved” format.

And other attorneys in his office could likely have done that, as well.

But Fellows decided to protect his staff and take on the unpleasant –my words, not his — job of writing the Lyman anti-Romney resolution, and have his name on it.

That’s what bosses are supposed to do. And I say it was good of Fellows to step up and do it.