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Vail Law: What’s going on in Texas and Utah?

Rohn Robbins
Vail, CO, Colorado

There is a famous legal case ” known by the name of the book and made-for-TV- movie that popularized it ” as “Gideon’s Trumpet.”

In June of 1961, Clarence Earl Gideon was arrested in Panama Bay, Fla., and charged with the crime of breaking and entering. When he appeared in court, Gideon was too poor to afford legal counsel, and so he represented himself. Despite the purely circumstantial evidence, Gideon was convicted and sentenced to five years in the state penitentiary.

From his prison cell, working on his own and scratching out his argument in pencil, Gideon appealed his conviction to the Unites States Supreme Court, arguing that he had been denied counsel and, accordingly, his Sixth Amendment rights, as applied by the 14th Amendment, had been violated. The Sixth Amendment sets forth rights related to criminal prosecution, and the 14th Amendment applies those rights to the states through the due process clause.



The court assigned prominent Washington D.C. attorney Abe Fortas (later a Supreme Court justice) to represent Gideon in his appeal.

The decision, in March, 1963, held that the right to counsel was a fundamental right essential to a fair trial and was required in the exercise of due process of law. Gideon v. Wainright established that a criminal accused must be informed of his right to counsel and that counsel will be appointed at state expense if he cannot afford one.



Another trumpet sounds

There is another trumpeter atop the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. The Angel Moroni, trumpet pressed to his lips, bestrides the highest temple spire in the capitol city of the state. And, coming out of Utah, there is another trumpet being sounded in the law. This one, however, may be just a little more absurd.

It has to do with football.



Utah Attorney General Mark Shurleff is apparently a University of Utah Utes fan. The university, as you may know, recently completed a perfect 13-0 football season, rolling past the heavily favored Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Despite Utah’s undefeated season, once-defeated Florida was crowned college football’s national champion. This, it seems, irked Shurleff.

While there is criticism aplenty over the current Bowl Championship Series ranking system ” a system that relies on a combination of polls and computer selection methods to determine relative team rankings and, ultimately, a national champion ” and while there has been a chorus of calls for its replacement with a playoff system, few have taken the step being argued by the Utah attorney general.

That step? To potentially file suit (presumably in the name of the people of the state of Utah) upon the grounds that the bowl system amounts to a violation of federal antitrust laws.

Now, the role of a state attorney general is to see that the laws of a particular state are uniformly enforced. He is the chief law officer of the state and is sometimes called the “people’s attorney.” He represents the people of the state in both civil and criminal matters. Both his salary and the suits he shepherds are funded by taxpayers.

Anti-trust laws are complex

The various antitrust acts (preeminent among them, the Sherman, Clayton and Robinson-Patman Acts) are enacted to protect trade and commerce from unlawful restraints, price discrimination, price fixing, and monopolies.

Crucially for Shurleff purposes is that “combinations in restraint of trade” are prohibited. In plain English, this means an agreement or understanding between two or more persons entered into for the purpose of unduly restricting or inhibiting competition.

Such restraint on competition may be effected by controlling production, distribution, or price of a particular commodity, or otherwise interfering with freedom of trade regarding that commodity. In other words, two or more guys get together and agree not to play by the rules of supply and demand in order to carve out an advantage for themselves. The implication, of course, is that in so doing, Joe Consumer loses, the availability and/or price of a certain good being artificially maintained.

Apparently, Shurleff believes the Bowl Championship Series unfairly puts schools like Utah (a member of a conference without an automatic bowl bid) at a competitive and financial disadvantage. Go Utes?!

Meanwhile, in Texas…

Texas Congressman Joe Barton, a Texas Longhorns fan, is miffed as well. You see, his 12-1 Longhorns were not crowned national champions while 12-1 Florida was. The solution, according to Barton, is to propose federal legislation to compel a playoff format for college football. Go back and read that again. I’ll wait.

Congressman Joe Barton believes that billing the title game as a national championship is “patently deceptive” and the solution is to employ federal legislation from doing so unless a playoff system is instituted by federal mandate.

Let’s see, now… recession, rampant unemployment, foreclosure crisis, general economic meltdown, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, the Israel-Gaza dispute, global warming…

As Allen Iverson might observe: “Football? Football?! We’re talking about football!”

Don’t these guys have something better to do?

Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at his e-mail address: robbins@colorado.net.


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