H.B. 79 would restore the inherent equitable power of courts to award attorney fees to a private citizen who brings a lawsuit that benefits a significant number of people in the public. This doctrine is known as the “Private Attorney General Doctrine.” This power is exercised at the close of a lawsuit when the court decides that the lawsuit has a broader impact beyond just the person who brought the suit. Throughout the country, this doctrine has helped many constitutional, civil rights, and important public policy cases to move through an expensive litigation process.
In 2009, the Utah Legislature attempted to take this power away from the courts, becoming the only state in the nation to do so. This is Representative Greene’s 4th year attempting to un-do the 2009 law, saying that it is an opportunity for the legislature to correct themselves and recognize that they made a mistake. He believes the 2009 bill was misguided and a violation of the separation of powers within the state constitution.
The fact that Utah is the only state to get rid of this power is concerning. Alliance for a Better Utah supports H.B. 79 because it puts the interests of the people of Utah ahead of any governmental interest. We believe courts have the discretion to equitably award this money. We believe in the separation of powers and applaud Representative Greene’s efforts for accountability in the legislature and his willingness to admit a mistake and attempt to correct it.