Salt Lake City contract attorney says legal process to access information backfired, will result in more secretive measures

October 29, 2014

“Keep it secret. Keep it safe,” seems to have been the epically inspired motto of South Jordan City regarding a certain document that the public demanded access to. No, it wasn’t the One Ring to Rule Them All, it was a draft document for part of the finances of a mini golf and games business set to be developed in the city. And despite the best efforts in the courtroom, it looks like South Jordan City will be able to keep it secret and safe, after all, something which the Salt Lake City contract attorney for the “grass roots group trying to pry open the confidential ‘draft document’” says was not a great decision for the public, according to the Salt Lake Tribune article reporting on the story.

Here’s how it happened—starting back in 2011 when “Mitt Romney told an Iowa State fairgoer that ‘Corporations are people, my friend,’” setting off alarm bells for concerned citizen advocates across the country. But then the Supreme Court upheld that notion just recently with its decision that Hobby Lobby enjoys constitutionally protected rights. And now South Jordan City is invoking that same idea, defending its right to confidentiality regarding the planning document for Mulligans Golf and Games resort, which residents are hoping to block development for. Salt Lake City contract attorney Clay Alger would be hard pressed to dispute the legal reality that the city can claim personhood, and thus protection under confidentiality rules.

Which is what the Records Committee in Salt Lake City hearing the case decided, eventually, despite the best arguments presented by the grass-roots group’s Salt Lake City contract attorney Jon Call. Call actually acknowledged that the argument that the city is a person is a valid one, legally: “we don’t dispute that,” he was heard to say in the courtroom. But was South Jordan City taking it a little too far when it “pressed the city’s legal status as a ‘person’ to argue” that the draft report “was confidential because it was created for ‘personal use” of an individual—namely, South Jordan City”? Probably. An “individual” is apparently defined as a human being, even when a “person” is not.

So South Jordan City couldn’t claim “personal use” of the document, even while being recognized as a “person.” This is where things can get hairy, Salt Lake City contract attorney Alger and other lawyers in Utah would remark. But hairy or not, the dispute was resolved in a 4-1 vote favoring South Jordan City’s right to keep the document private and confidential. Secret and safe.

That’s probably not the end of the story, however. Local legal organizer Verne Cotton finds the idea of corporations and cities as people as “atrocious” and a “legal fiction” that is “allowing corporations to hide behind the Constitution.” His advocacy group points to “last year’s nonbinding survey in Salt Lake City where 88 percent of voters agreed” that corporations are not people, and they want to see the law changed. Which would mean significant changes for Hobby Lobby, and Wall Street too, most likely.



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