ST. GEORGE – At the September meeting of the Democrats of Southern Utah, Monday, at the Best Western Abbey Inn on Bluff Street in St. George, Charles Stormont an unaffiliated candidate running on the Democratic party ticket for Utah Attorney General, presented his ideas to those in attendance telling them why he is the best person to “restore common sense, and get to the point” in his race for Utah’s highest law enforcement office.
Stormont is, by his own account, happily married and a father of two children under the age of 7. He has been an attorney in the state’s attorney general’s office for the last six years. Before that he spent seven years in private practice in large international law firms working in the areas of antitrust and intellectual property litigation.
“I feel that brings a unique perspective,” Stormont said, “being in private practice, and public service.”
At the attorney general’s office, Stormont works with the Utah Department of Transportation acquiring property for projects throughout the state. Stormont also occasionally helps out on driver’s license revocation cases.
Originally from Houston, Texas, and spending some of his growing up years in Virginia, Stormont met his wife in Washington D.C. after law school. They moved to the Salt Lake Valley eight years ago to be nearer her family who lives in the Salt Lake area.
Why he is running and how is he different
I found myself incredibly frustrated with everything we have learned about what the prior administrations were up too. I had a moment where I was wondering when someone was going to do something about this, and my daughter shot me a look that, to me, asked me what did I do when I learned about these problems. I want to be able to tell my kids, when they learn about these things in the next 10 or 15 years, that I stood up and gave people a real choice.
When asked whether the recent scandal with former attorney’s general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow would help him, running on the Democratic ticket, Stormont said:
It brings a unique focus to the race; normally, we are running at the same time as the president, governor, and a handful of other offices. This race is the top of the ticket, which is unusual for an attorney general race. There are a lot of people now talking about the attorney general race. So whether it helps or hurts one party or the other, I am not sure. It’s the unique focus that it brings that allows us to talk to so many about the issues.
This is his first run for any office, Stormont said, other than high school class president. He has never been involved in politics other than voting, he said.
Stormont said that the attorney general’s office should not be a partisan office. He said if you hire a lawyer, you don’t ask what party he is, you ask about his reputation in the practice of law.
“I am in this because I want to serve the people,” Stormont said. “I am not a politician, never been on a committee for this or a delegate for that. I am coming at this as a lawyer who wants to stand up for the people of Utah, and really bring the office back to where it should be.”
Changes to the Office of Attorney General
Stormont said that his first priority in office is to create a state ethics office. This office would have the ability to receive complaints, ensure transparency in government, to conduct investigations and prosecute crimes that may have been committed by government officials.
He would want to modernize the office, Stormont said, noting that there are a number of areas that are overwhelmed. If they could get some basic technology into the office, it would pay for itself almost instantly, he said. It would allow the attorneys of the attorney general’s office to compete with the people who sue the state. It would allow the attorney general’s office to be on an even playing field when it comes to representing the issues of the state.
“The current administration has doubled the size of its executive staff staff,” Stormont said. “I think there is OR ARE? some pretty clear places there we can make some cuts.”
Stormont said that there is obviously a significant amount of lawsuits that he believes don’t have proper foundation in the law, and that are politically motivated. If the state were to stop fighting some of those it could save a lot of money, he said.
“Our child protection division is overwhelmed. Our driver’s license division attorney is overwhelmed, our criminal appeals division is overwhelmed,” Stormont said. “Some of those attorneys have double or triple the recommended case load for the type of work that they do. Some of those attorneys stand up for children in court, and they need help. I would rather spend the money on those resources, than on court cases we know we are going to lose. ”
Same-sex marriage and bigamy
“I am not going to spend the AG’s resources on the same sex marriage case,” Stormont said. “If the governor chooses to pursuit it, he can, but he will be paying for it out of his own budget.”
Stormont went on to say that the attorney general’s office cannot afford to throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at something that we know we are going to lose.
“The criminalization of bigamy has been deemed unconstitutional,” he said, “it’s something that the case law is very clear on. We need to focus on the other problems that exists OR EXIST?, not cases that don’t have a good foundation in the law.”
The Hildale land trust and Colorado City Marshal’s Office
“The land trust issue is a mess,” Stormont said. “We could talk for days, there are so many issues. First and foremost, we need to focus on law enforcement in those communities, and make sure we have folks on the ground who can enforce court orders, and state law.”
Stormont said with the federal ruling against the state of Arizona on the disbanding of the Marshals Office, he would use the Utah Highway Patrol on the state roads, and use the jurisdiction that they have, so people who go through those communities or live in those communities are not afraid for their own safety.
“We would establish a legitimate presence,” Stormont said. “That would be a top priority. I would work with public safety, and that is something on the problem-solving side that we could look into.”
In 2012, HB 148 the transfer of public lands act and related study was passed by the Legislature. It requires, by the end of this year, the federal government extinguish title to all public lands in Utah. There are over 40 exceptions such as national parks, wilderness area, monuments, and military installations in Utah.
It talks about nearly 20 million to 30 million acres, and a perceived crisis over the management of public lands.
“I am here to tell you, if you want to solve that crisis, litigation is not the answer,” Stormont said. “It will not do it. We will lose and fall flat on our faces.”
Why do we have this demand, what is the legal argument behind this demand? In 1894, Congress enabled Utah to get together, create a constitution, and come into the union, the enabling act is the authorization to start that process.
In section 9 of the enabling act it says that which shall be sold by the United States. There are some commenters that say by saying “shall” means the federal government has to sell Utah the land.
“There is a principle in contract law in which you have to give effect to an entire contract, or piece of legislation,” Stormont said. “That ‘which shall’ language means, if and when the federal government elects to sell the lands, this is the process we should follow. The remainder of the enabling act is very clear.”
The United States Constitution says that Congress shall have power to dispose of, and make all legal rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.
“In case law that goes back to the 1840s, so 174 years ago, it says that the power of Congress over property belonging to the United States is without limitation,” Stormont said. “So if we want to file a lawsuit we need to figure out a way to overturn 174 years of precedent. Throwing resources at it, is not a good idea.”
This is high school civics, Stormont said, if there is federal authority, appropriated to the federal government, as we have here in the property clause of the United States Constitution, a state cannot come in and override it. When a state comes in and demands that this occur, they will lose, and it is a waste of money.
“I am not suggesting we don’t try and find solutions to those problems,” Stormont said. “I want to make sure when we try and find solutions, we are finding solutions that actually work. Litigation will get us nowhere, it will embarrass the state of Utah, and it will set us back. We will waste that time that we could be trying to find solutions, instead of moving forward and finding solutions. If they say we have to go to court, they are not interested in finding solutions. From a pure legal perspective it’s nonsense. It’s time to stop talking nonsense and move Utah forward.”
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