Utah GOP picks 3 to be new attorney general

Posted at 3:56 PM, Dec 14, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-14 17:56:49-05

SANDY -- The Utah Republican Party advanced three names to Governor Gary Herbert to select a replacement for John Swallow, who resigned as Utah Attorney General in the face of investigations and scandal.

Sean Reyes was nominated after getting 62-percent of the vote in the first round of balloting. Robert Smith was the second name advanced after the third round of ballots. At the end of the fifth round of voting, interim Utah Attorney General Brian Tarbet was selected as the third name, narrowly beating Fraternal Order of Police attorney Bret Rawson.

Swallow resigned earlier this month, maintaining his innocence in the face of allegations of wrongdoing.

"Today we're in an embarrassing and precarious position because our own leaders have let us down," said Smith, the director of the Center for Law and Religious Studies at BYU.

Many of the seven candidates for Utah Attorney General took swipes at Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, vowing to "clean house" if they were selected.

"A real culture change must take place to win back public trust," said Reyes, who lost to Swallow in last year's primary election.

Reyes said he would order an audit of the Utah Attorney General's Office, saying some outside firms had offered to do it "pro bono."

Rawson, an attorney on the legal team representing Marc Sessions Jenson, who accused Swallow of a "shakedown," warned against the office falling into the hands of Democrats.

"We can survive this," he told the delegates. "We will survive this."

Rawson was not the only candidate with some ties to the scandal surrounding Swallow. Michelle Mumford's husband, Marcus, is also on Jenson's legal team. But, she told the crowd: "I am my own woman."

Mumford, an associate dean at BYU's law school, said if appointed attorney general, she would order a review of all cases tied to donors and vowed to "rebuild the office." She said the other candidates were too timid to be attorney general.

"I'm underestimated and that is my strength," she told the crowd.

Former Utah Supreme Court Justice Michael Wilkins initially declared he would not seek re-election if he were appointed, but on Saturday changed his position -- if the people wanted it.

Tarbet told the delegates "this is my first and last campaign." He reiterated to reporters after the vote that he had no plans to run in 2014.

Tarbet, who was appointed as a chief deputy attorney general under Swallow, insisted that the problems began before he was appointed -- going back to the mid-2000s. He told the delegates that if appointed attorney general was prepared to "find it, fix it, and get it done for you."

As the voting stretched on throughout the day, former Iron County Attorney Scott Burns was eliminated in the second round. Wilkins withdrew from the race as the third round of balloting began, endorsing Tarbet and telling the delegates to "do what is right for the state." He received a standing ovation from some in the audience.

Governor Herbert is expected to appoint a replacement by the end of the month. That person will serve as Utah Attorney General until a special election in November 2014, to fill out the remainder of the term, which ends in 2016.

Herbert told reporters that he would interview the three candidates and make a decision within the next 10 days.