2022 Bills

HB 140: Attorney Fees for Successfully Suing the Government

This bill did not receive a vote.

Libertas Institute supports this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it aligns with our principles and should therefore be passed into law.

In theory, the Attorney General is the “people’s attorney” to protect our rights. In practice, however, the Attorney General — and the many lawyers who work in the office — represent the government. So what happens when the government is the violator of the people’s rights?

In every state except Utah, an individual who successfully sues the government over an important/constitutional right can be awarded attorney fees, basically making them whole in their financial fight to defend people’s rights, since the government was at fault. (Otherwise, there exists a huge financial deterrent for anyone to step forward on behalf of others to take up the case.)

But Utah has a statutory ban on the private attorney general, as our policy brief describes. To address this issue, Representative Kera Birkeland is sponsoring House Bill 140, which would create an opportunity for individuals to receive attorney fees if they are the prevailing party in a civil case brought against (or initiated by) the government.

Individuals who hold the government accountable in the courts and thus protect the rights of their peers should be compensated for their expenses just as taxpayers heavily fund the Attorney General’s office that, in theory, should be doing that job.