Nine vie to be next state attorney general

SALT LAKE CITY – Last week saw Utah Attorney General John Swallow’s last day in office before his resignation took effect. Since then nine people, including the man chosen by the governor to act as the interim state attorney general, have filed to be chosen as Swallow’s successor.

Swallow’s 11 months as Utah’s top cop came to an end at 12:01 a.m., Tuesday. It ended a four-year stint with the attorney general’s office overall, Swallow having served under former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff since Dember 2009. He officially announced his resignation on Nov. 21, citing the emotional and financial toll defending himself in multiple investigations was taking on his office and family. Swallow particularly blamed the Utah House Special Investigative Committee’s ongoing investigation for his eventual decision to resign.

Though he maintains his innocence, Swallow said he doesn’t believe he can prove his innocence to the public, according to the Deseret News.

“I’ve decided that there’s no way in the world that I’m going to convince people that I’m innocent,” Swallow said. “I just have to go quietly away, work on that and know that my family and I and anyone else that really matters in my life will know and understand I have not done the things they said I’ve done.”

Whether or not Swallow is able to “go quietly away” remains to be seen, as he is still under investigation by Davis and Salt Lake county attorneys’ offices and the special House committee. The special House committee met Saturday to discuss how to proceed with the investigation. Committee members voted to release their findings to the public in a public hearing to be held Dec. 19-20.

In the wake of the resignation, the lieutenant governor’s office concluded its own investigation into Swallow and cited five alleged election-law violations, each amounting to a misdemeanor charge. Since Swallow resigned, though, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said his office will not be pursuing a civil case which could have seen Swallow’s election invalidated.

Pool of candidates

With the resignation, the attorney general’s post remains in Republican hands, leaving the governor free to appoint a successor from that party. That successor will be one of three names submitted to the governor by the state Republican Party’s Central Committee after it meets on Dec. 14 to whittle down the candidate pool.

The central committee has nine names to choose from, two of who have ties to Swallow accusers Jeremy Johnson and Marc Jensen. Those vying for the position are: Brian Tarbet, Brent Ward, Bret Rawson, Robert Smith, Stephen Sorenson, Scott Burns, Michael Wilkins, Sean Reyes and Michelle Mumford.

Brain Tarbet is a retired Utah National Guard adjutant general who was chosen by Gov. Gary Herbert to act as the state’s interim attorney general until a permanent replacement is chosen. He filed for candidacy Friday afternoon, hours before the 5 p.m. deadline.

Tarbet retired from the military in 2012 and has served as general counsel for the attorney general’s office since January. If chosen as Swallow’s successor, he said he will fill the position for a year and not seek election.

Also filing their names on Friday before the 5 p.m. deadline were Robert Smith, the managing director for Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies; and Salt Lake City attorney Stephen Sorenson.

Brent Ward is a former U.S. Attorney for Utah and currently works with the Department of Justice. Ward served as the Justice Department’s lead counsel in the Jeremy Johnson case until he withdrew Monday. It was Johnson’s accusations of corruption against Swallow in January that originally led to the many investigations against him.

Ward told the Deseret News that he hadn’t heard any worries about his being involved in the Johnson case and being a candidate. However, withdrawing from the case allows him to better focus on his message in the race, he said. Hesaid would not launch a campaign for attorney general until a mont before the November 2014 election.

Another name with ties to one of Swallow’s accusers is Bret Rawson. Rawson represented convicted businessman Marc Jensen who accused Swallow and Shurtleff of influence peddling. Rawson was the first of the contenders for attorney general to announce his candidacy as well. He is also a reserve police officer and also specializes in representing police officers in court, according to his website.

Rawson told the Deseret News he does not consider his acting as Jensen’s defense a conflict of interest in pursing the attorney general’s post. He will also campaign for election next year if appointed.

Former Iron County Attorney Scott Burns has also thrown his hat into the candidacy ring. He has served as the executive director of the National District Attorneys Association and was a deputy drug czar in the George W. Bush Administration. Burns has stated he would clean up the attorney general’s office, but will not be seeking election in 2014, according to KUTV.

Michael Wilkins served as a Utah Supreme Court Justice for 10 years. He will not be seeking election, but will rather seek to “provide a ‘calming and steady hand’ over the next year as a caretaker attorney general,” according to the Desert News.

Sean Reyes ran against Swallow for the Republican nomination in 2012 and was defeated in the primaries. If chosen, he will campaign for election as well.

“The AG’s office is such a vital part of keeping our state and citizens safe, healthy and prosperous,” Reyes said in a statement. “The AG’s office is the law firm for the people. Utah needs an office run efficiently and effectively that is beyond reproach.”

Michelle Mumford, the secretary for the Utah GOP and assistant dean of admission at BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, has also filed her candidacy for Utah Attorney General.

Officials with the Utah Democratic Party have voiced their desire that the next attorney general be a caretaker of the office, and not be on the campaign trail for 2014 at the same time. The idea of a caretaker attorney general was originally suggested by state Sen. John Valentine, R-Provo, and has gained the support of Democratic leaders such as Jim Dabakis, the state party chair.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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