Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Fool For a Client: Utah's New Lawyers

I found it very interesting to read about the three attorneys that the State of Utah has hired to defend its ban on licensing or recognition of same-sex marriage.

The lead attorney, Gene C. Schaerr, is, in the words of Sean Reyes, a Utah native who “understands our unique history and community."

As soon as I read that, I knew what Reyes meant: Gene Schaerr is a Mormon who “gets it.”

Yes, he “gets it.” A quick Google search turned up, among other things, a 2012 article in Meridian Magazine (a well-known ezine for Mormons) in which he wrote the following:
“Church members who live in Maryland—or who have friends or relatives living in Maryland—have a wonderful and immediate opportunity to act on our leaders’ recent reminders of the importance of defending traditional man-woman marriage … through what is called “Ballot Question 6” [which would] overturn the same-gender marriage law that narrowly passed the Maryland legislature earlier this year. 
“I can’t promise that future generations of Marylanders will personally thank you for your support: Once this crisis has passed, they likely won’t fully understand the threat that the new Maryland law poses to our culture of marriage or to the welfare of children. But I’m certain there is One who will be very pleased with those who step up and defend traditional marriage during this critical time.”
Schaerr, who has resigned from his law firm, has also worked out some sort of deal with the Salt Lake City-based archconservative “think tank,” the Sutherland Institute. Hmmm.

Schaerr will be assisted by John Bursch, former solicitor general of Michigan who has argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court, and Monte Neil Stewart, each of whom have agreed to cap their fees at $50,000 each, while Schaerr has agreed to cap his fees at $200,000.

Stewart assisted the AG’s office with their successful appeal to the Supreme Court for a stay of Judge Shelby’s December ruling. Stewart received both his undergraduate and law degrees from BYU and appears to have devoted a significant amount of time and effort to fighting marriage equality, not only in Utah but elsewhere in the country.

It turns out that Stewart was a co-chair in 2004 of Utahns for a Better Tomorrow, one of the four sponsors of Utah Amendment 3 which limited marriage to male-female couples and prevented the recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships. He has also been heavily involved in the founding and  running of the Provo-based Marriage Law Foundation.

I was unable to determine whether Bursch is a Mormon, but it is well-established that Schaerr and Stewart are not only active Mormons but ultraconservative Mormons who, based on their writings, clearly believe they are engaged in a Heaven-blessed crusade to “defend” “traditional” marriage.

Fair enough.

But I have to wonder what kind of job they can do for the State of Utah - which, after all, is not the LDS Church. These men are effectively representing themselves and beliefs that they have spent decades propounding. They are so passionately involved in their “mission,” and quite clearly believe they are on God’s side … Can they be dispassionate enough to engage the proponents of marriage equality? Will they believe so earnestly in the righteousness of their cause that they will be blind to other perspectives that might actually better serve their client?

I certainly hope so. It can’t hurt.

“A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” 
– Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

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