Keshlear appealed, seeking additional materials, with the county’s chief administrative officer responding that no other records were available. The next day, Laws said, county officials received an emailed letter from Boos and addressed to Maryboy and Grayeyes stating that Boos had authored the county resolutions and that his documents and communications were protected under attorney-client privilege.

Benjamin Wood

Salt Lake Tribune

Members of the Utah State Records Committee were openly perplexed Thursday at how to proceed with a request for records related to the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and last year’s historic election of two Navajo Democrats to the San Juan County Commission.

San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws argued that his office had complied to the best of its ability with an open records request by freelance journalist Bill Keshlear under Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act, or GRAMA.

But Laws added that there may or may not be additional records that would qualify as public under the law, but which are being withheld by a lawyer who privately advises the two new county commissioners, Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes, and who claims attorney-client privilege.

“The county is not in a position to even classify whether they qualify as a record because we haven’t seen them,” Laws said. “We have not been granted access to those either.”

The committee ultimately ruled unanimously in favor of Keshlear’s appeal against the county, ordering Laws to obtain the records in order to appropriately determine whether they are public or private.

But committee members also noted that their actions may only serve as an internal precedent or supporting evidence for future litigation, as Keshlear and Laws were effectively on the same side of the issue in seeking information from Colorado-based attorney Steven Boos, who was not present at Thursday’s hearing.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that just because we make an order and [Laws] passes the order on, that there’s going to be compliance,” records committee member David Fleming said. “But at least we’ve made a decision that’s consistent with the statute.”

Committee member Cindi Mansell, the Salt Lake City recorder, commented that Boos and the county commissioners may have discovered a “clever” way to circumvent the state’s open records law.

“It’s scary,” she said.

In February, Keshlear requested copies of correspondence and draft materials related to a series of resolutions passed by the San Juan County Commission after the election of Maryboy and Grayeyes, which ended decades of white Republican control in the county by seating a two-person Democratic, and Navajo, majority.

Among the resolutions were the reversal of previous county positions in opposition to the Bears Ears National Monument and a directive that San Juan County switch sides and join litigation challenging President Donald Trump’s reduction of the monument in 2017.

But in responding to Keshlear’s request, county officials provided only the resolutions themselves, which had already been approved during public commission meetings.

Keshlear appealed, seeking additional materials, with the county’s chief administrative officer responding that no other records were available. The next day, Laws said, county officials received an emailed letter from Boos and addressed to Maryboy and Grayeyes stating that Boos had authored the county resolutions and that his documents and communications were protected under attorney-client privilege.

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