Utah’s Lawyer Legislators

The Intermountain Commercial Record
Friday, March 8, 2013
Sean Toomey

Utah‘s Lawyer Legislators
—Attorneys of the Utah State Bar following in Lincoln’s path

The 22 lawyer legislators in the Utah House and Senate—an increase from 15 in 2012—are following in the footsteps of lawyer-politician Abraham Lincoln. While he was a Representative in the Illinois State Legislature,Lincoln taught himself law by reading cases and legal codes. Before, during, and after his time in the U.S. Congress, civil actions made up a majority of Lincoln’s law practice, so he got a sense of the problems ordinary people faced. Lincoln’s work on the circuit court in Illinois—a fifteen county, 130 square-mile district—became the root of his political education. The court traveled from one county seat to another, sometimes on horseback, sometimes in buggies or wagons, and sometimes afoot.

Utah’s 22 lawyer legislators have rich and varied backgrounds, and they arrived in different ways at law as a career, and service in the Legislature. Here are a few examples.

Utah State representative Kay McIff served a slightly larger, six-county area of Utah as a Sixth District Court Judge for eleven years. He traveled to courthouses in Manti,Richfield, Loa, Junction, Panguitch, and Kanab, and was glad he never had to do so on horseback. McIff was first drawn to the law in the ninth grade when his class observed the beginning of a murder trial; he was so intrigued that he went back by himself for a few days to see the rest of the trial. McIff has engaged in most aspects of the legal profession, including serving as county attorney in Sevier and Piute counties. Appointed by the Governor to the Board of Regents, McIff has served in all three branches of Utah government.

Representative Michael Kennedy was in his second year as a medical resident when he decided to go to law school. “I realized that lawyers knew more about doctors than doctors knew about lawyers,” says Kennedy. It took him six years to become a lawyer, during which time he also became a family doctor at University of Utah Health Care. According to Kennedy, “Everybody should have some legal training; law is everywhere; we breathe it; it’s the glue that holds society together.” This is Kennedy’s first term, and he looks forward to helping the House with health care legislation.

Representative Patrice Arent ran for the Legislature because she is a bit of an idealist and truly believes one person can make a difference. She was first elected in 1996 and has vast experience in legislative jobs at the Capitol—from student lobbyist, to Intern, to Associate General Counsel to the Utah Legislature, to Chief of the Legislative Division of the Attorney General’s Office. Her service includes membership in both the House and the Senate, and during her time in the Legislature, she has sponsored almost 60 bills which the legislature passed.

Representative Lowry Snow was in his early twenties when he met a trial lawyer who took him under his wing. Since then, Snow has had an active legal career, and has dedicated himself to service, including positions with the Utah State Bar (past president), Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (past chair), Washington County Economic Development Council (past chair), Governor’s Office of Economic Development Board, Southern Utah Community Legal Center Advisory Board (past chair), Kane County Hospital Foundation Board, Economic Development Corporation of Utah Board, and the St. George Rotary Club. Snow says that “Lawyers who serve are well equipped to help with policy issues and long-range planning for the state.”

When Senator Todd Weiler was eight, Perry Mason inspired him to one day become an attorney. His experiences as a Bluffdale City Attorney and Woods Cross City Council member inform his work in the Senate, where he has worked on sponsoring bills, including one this session to protect vulnerable users of highways (Weiler was hit twice while riding his bicycle in 2010).

Representative Daniel McCay set his sights on joining the Legislature when he observed the difficulties teachers had with unfunded and unsupported mandates. He implemented a life strategy that took him from being a high school social studies teacher, through law school, and into the House. Now he is in a position to write smart laws that positively affect teachers.

It was the experiences of an individual teacher—his seventh grade French instructor—that put Representative Earl Tanner on the path to law school. She had immigration problems, and Tanner’s father helped her solve them without charging for his work. Tanner still remembers his teacher’s gratitude and the pride he took in his father.

Law was an alternate plan for musician Derek Brown. His father-in-law, Lex de Azevedo, was a professional musician who persuaded him not to take a similar career path. Representative Brown remains connected to music; his childhood piano teacher, who is 95 years old, teaches piano to his two boys. Brown believes that an important role for lawyers in the legislature is to watch for unintended consequences, where in attempting to resolve one problem, additional problems arise. Lawyers can help craft bill language to focus on the issue at hand.

It was Representative Brian King’s father—sharing enjoyment of his general law practicing around the dinner table—who drew him and his two brothers to the law. King says that lawyer legislators offer unique contributions to the bill drafting process, “Having practiced law, we know what gets worked out by judges and lawyers case by case, so we can help ensure that laws don’t over-reach their intended purpose, which can inadvertently make them less effective.”

As with Lincoln,Utah’s lawyer legislators benefit from their education and experience in a profession that emphasizes logical thinking and reasoning, the ability to build an effective argument, and excellent speaking skills. Additionally, their specialized training helps draft statutes that pass constitutional muster, and avoid ambiguity.

The lawyer legislators in the House are: Patrice M. Arent, Derek E. Brown, LaVar Christensen, Spencer J. Cox, Brian M. Greene, Craig Hall, Kenneth R. Ivory, Michael S. Kennedy, Brian S. King, Daniel McCay, Kay L. McIff, Mike K. McKell, Merrill F. Nelson, Kraig J. Powell, V. Lowry Snow, Keven J. Stratton, and Earl D. Tanner.

The lawyer legislators in the Senate are: Lyle W. Hillyard, Mark B. Madsen, Stephen H. Urquhart, John L. Valentine, and Todd Weiler.

The Utah State Bar was established in 1931 and, under the authority of the Utah Supreme Court, regulates the practice of law. The lawyers of the Utah State Bar are working to create a justice system that is understood, valued, respected, and accessible to all.


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