VOTE: Attorney general candidates talk setbacks, crime, civil rights

L-R: Michael Isbell, Sean Reyes and Andrew McCullough, candidates running for Utah Attorney General 2016 | Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Crime and safety are concerns Utahns have ranked No. 7 in their top 10 priorities this election, concerns that will reflect in their choice of Utah’s next attorney general from a pool of three candidates.

The candidates are: Republican Sean Reyes, incumbent; Libertarian Andrew McCullough; Independent American Michael IsBell. Democratic candidate Jon Harper withdrew from the race in September, citing undisclosed health issues. The Democratic Party did not substitute another candidate in his place.

Each candidate brings professional lawyering experience; accomplishments he is proud of; and his own views on criminal justice, civil and victims rights and the like; and each can recall a setback or two that impacted his approach to life, career or both.

St. George News asked the candidates: Reflecting on a personal or business-related setback in the past, what did you do to recover from that – what behaviors, attitudes or actions did you take to get back up, brush yourself off, and continue on?

Republican candidate Sean Reyes, incumbent attorney general for Utah, is running for re-election in 2016. | Profile photo courtesy of "Sean Reyes for Attorney General," St. George News
Republican candidate Sean Reyes, incumbent attorney general for Utah, is running for re-election in 2016. | Profile photo courtesy of “Sean Reyes for Attorney General,” St. George News

Sean Reyes, Republican

Reyes has served as the state’s attorney general since Dec. 23, 2013. He was appointed by Gov. Gary R. Herbert when Reyes’ predecessor, John Swallow, resigned after allegations of corruption surfaced with an ongoing investigation.

As he runs to retain his position this year, Reyes’ top three priorities remain the same, according to his website. He is attempting to protect children and citizens from violent crime and drugs, businesses and consumers from white collar crime and fraud, and to restore the public’s trust by focusing on “ethics and excellent legal work.”

“If you’re doing good as much as you can, wherever you can, and for as long as you can,” Reyes said, “it doesn’t make a difference where that place is.”

Recalling a setback, Reyes referred to his 2012 candidacy when he lost to John Swallow in that race. In an emailed statement, he said:

“While it was disappointing to lose the race for Attorney General in 2012, I saw it as an opportunity for me to find other places to serve.  Within a day or two after the loss, I immediately went back to work serving with the non-profits I had stepped away from during the race. I still had my family, and there were many other opportunities to serve. In those months after the loss, I had some of the most fulfilling experiences serving and some of the most productive business opportunities that I’ve ever had. 

“After a loss, I get back on my feet, I don’t feel sorry for myself, and I find places to serve. If you’re doing good as much as you can, wherever you can, and as long as you can it doesn’t make a difference where that place is.”

In the summer of 2014, Reyes reorganized the Attorney General’s Office and created a markets and financial fraud division to integrate various divisions devoted to various types of fraud, with a stated goal of maximizing efficiency.

He recently received an endorsement from the National Rifle Association and an “A+” rating. According to a press release, an “A+” rating is reserved for a solidly pro-Second Amendment elected official who has consistently supported the NRA’s position on votes of importance to gun owners and sportsmen.

Reyes has also received an endorsement from the Utah Fraternal Order of Police, an organization representing over 2,700 police officers statewide. According to a news release issued by Reyes’ campaign communications director, Dave Edwards, vice chairman of the fraternal order, acknowledged the attorney general for his work to diligently familiarize himself and his office with Utah police training and the role Utah police serve as a unique group of public servants.

“As you know, this is a difficult time for law enforcement given the challenges with public perception that continue to plague our profession in the wake of some of the tragedies that have developed nationwide,” Edwards said in the letter, according to the news release.

Reyes graduated summa cum laude from Brigham Young University in 1994. He went on to earn his law degree with honors from U.C. Berkeley in 1997. He practiced for nearly 14 years at Parsons Behle & Latimer, the largest law firm in Utah, where he became one of the first minority lawyers to make partner at a major Utah firm.

Reyes has served as a county, state and national delegate for the Republican Party. He has held a gubernatorial appointment in the 3rd District Judicial Nominating Commission set up by former President George W. Bush.

In the business community, Reyes has served on numerous boards, both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. He also helped to rebuild the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and cofounded its education foundation.

Libertarian Andrew McCullough is running for attorney general in Utah's 2016 general election. | Profile photo courtesy of Andrew McCullough, St. George News
Libertarian Andrew McCullough is running for attorney general in Utah’s 2016 general election. | Profile photo courtesy of Andrew McCullough, St. George News

Andrew McCullough, Libertarian

McCullough, has been a Utah County resident since 1973. He has practiced law for over 48 years, 28 of them in Utah County before moving his office to Salt Lake County in 2002.

According to his website, after handling hundreds of criminal and civil matters in both Utah and federal courts, McCullough has a clear understanding of how the Attorney General’s Office needs to work and the issues that need to be faced. He has extensive experience in constitutional law and is passionate about individual rights and fighting for those rights.

McCullough’s stated goal is to make Utahns more free by making all branches of state government more understanding and responsive toward individual rights. He has said he opposes “policing for profit” and resists the impulse to increase the state’s power “in the name of insuring safety,” while at the same time restricting individual rights.

When it comes to setbacks, McCullough said he is highly self-reliant and that adversity is what makes a person strong and gives them courage to continue.

He also said he has a tendency to get very emotionally involved in his cases.

“Some of the cases I handle give me the opportunity to really make a legal change that matters,” McCullough said, “but some of the cases that are most important result in failure. I have been crushed by those failures; and I have felt that I cannot do this any more. But then along comes another chance, and an occasional victory. … The occasional major victory can make it possible to live with some terrible defeats.

“While working on a case that involved the state reimbursing a man who was incarcerated for four years and was later exonerated McCullough experienced many failures as the case proceeded, but instead of giving up it only strengthened his resolve.”

After two years McCullough’s client finally won, and he realized that the suffering and disappointment during that time was worth it, he said, and he reflects on that during times of doubt or defeat.”

Utah Rep. Fred C. Cox, R-District 30, supports McCullough for attorney general.

“Andrew McCullough will make a good Utah Attorney General,” Cox said in a media statement. “He cares about people, their constitutional rights, and fighting to protect them from government over reach.”

McCullough has also been endorsed by state Sen. James Dabakis, D-District 2.

Independent American Michael IsBell is running for attorney general in Utah's 2016 general election. | Profile photo courtesy of Ballotpedia, St. George News
Independent American Michael IsBell is running for attorney general in Utah’s 2016 general election. | Profile photo courtesy of Ballotpedia, St. George News

Michael IsBell, Independent American

IsBell is a private practice attorney who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War as a military police officer before serving as a Special Forces Airborne Infantry officer, also known as a ‘Green Beret,’ for three years.

As a member of the Utah State Bar for nearly 23 years, IsBell has extensive experience in criminal law after handling numerous felony cases.

Isbell also served in the public education sector teaching business and economics for seven years in California. While there, he founded and operated a charter school for underprivileged children. The father of five also served as a scoutmaster and unit coordinator with the Boy Scouts of America.

IsBell said being adaptive to change is what has enabled humans to survive. When setbacks occur, he said, it’s time to accept the change and to do something different.

Many years ago he was working as a manager of an engineering department that went through a period of downsizing, IsBell said. Very quickly, 1/3 of his department, including himself, was laid off. Seeing the permanency of the situation he decided to finish his law degree.

“Once I realized that the world was changing all around me,” IsBell said, “I knew I would have to do something different to survive.”

He attended Lewis & Clark College’s Northwestern School of Law, with special studies in constitutional law, constitutional theory and jurisprudence. He received his Juris Doctor degree in 1992. Once he passed the Utah State Bar, he practiced law in Cedar City for a short time and then relocated his practice to Logan.

One of his most important accomplishments involved a charter school that he and his wife ran in Southern California, IsBell said. The school was established in an area rife with gang activity and poverty, and instead of giving up he made a commitment to meet the students where they were … and then he raised the bar.

“I saw these kids come into the school with the expectation of failing,” IsBell said, “and once they realized they were not helpless in that environment it empowered them, and they began to succeed.”

IsBell is focused on restoring the rights of Utahns. He believes the current leadership in the Attorney General’s Office is furthering the erosion of those civil rights, he said. As an example, he cited Utah v. Strieff, a U.S. Supreme Court case that, he said, called probable cause into question.

The Strieff case involved a police officer who stopped a man in Salt Lake City after he left a house the officer had been surveilling. During the stop, the officer learned of an outstanding traffic warrant against the man, arrested him then searched him and found illegal drugs that gave rise to new charges. The Utah Supreme Court ruled the stop unlawful which called associated arrest and evidence found into question.

The Attorney General’s office appealed the Strieff case to the United States Supreme Court. The high court found the untainted traffic warrant was sufficient to weaken the effect of any illegality in the originating stop insofar as the arrest and evidence seized were concerned. The arrest, therefore, was found lawful and the evidence collected through that arrest is admissible at trial regardless of whether or not the originating stop was lawful – something the justices did not weigh in on.

IsBell cited the Strieff opinion as an erosion of civil rights. Reyes’ office called it a hard-fought victory.

The Strieff opinion corrected an important Fourth Amendment search and seizure issue, Reyes’ office said in a June news release. Both liberal and conservative justices affirmed the 5-3 opinion. Members of the Attorney General’s Office were recognized in June by the National Association of Attorneys General with the Supreme Court Best Brief Award for their brief in that case.

Read more: Split Supreme Court bolsters police powers; rules on Utah search case.

Office of the Attorney General

The mission of the Office of the Attorney General, according to its statement, is to “uphold the constitutions of the United States and of Utah, enforce the law, and protect the interests of Utah, its people, environment and resources.”

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.


Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • sagemoon October 25, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I’m voting McCullough. I don’t trust any attorney who worked under Shurtleff and Swallow.

    • Michael October 25, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Andy is a good man. Solid attorney.

  • Michael October 25, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    The fact the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Utah Supreme Court in the Streif case is not evidence that the Constitution is being upheld by the former. Rather the contrary. This decision underscores the reality that the rise of militant policing in America is rooted in systemic lack of faithful adherence to what the Constitution says. I believe tha majority of our police officers are honorable and faithful. It is unfair they are blamed for the problems of police violence and brutality which the public is becoming aware of. The real problem is with executives, courts, and legislatures which hand down laws and policies which tread on the Constitution and which our peace officers are bound to conform their methods to. Sadly, the Constitution hangs by a thread.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.