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Candidates debate, vow to restore trust in Utah Attorney General’s Office

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Posted at 10:20 PM, Oct 01, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-02 01:25:45-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- They both vow to return trust back to an office marred by scandal, but Sean Reyes and Charles Stormont have very different views on what it will take to reform the office of Utah Attorney General.

The Republican, Reyes, and Democrat, Stormont faced off in a debate held at BYU and broadcast on Fox 13 and several other television and radio stations.

The election would not normally occur this November, because John Swallow won a four-year term in 2012. But Swallow resigned as he faced investigations related to his campaign finances and his involvement with business people who were targets or potential targets of his office.

Since the resignation, both Swallow and his predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, have been criminally charged by the District Attorney of Salt Lake County, and the County Attorney of Davis County.

Reyes says he is already on his way to restoring trust, with a new ethics committee in the office, a new leadership team including more women and minorities, and his personal vow not to take donations from companies and individuals that may pose a conflict.

Stormont says those are good steps, but it's not enough. He says the Attorney General's  office needs to have an ethics office dedicated to educating state employees about ethics rules and enforcing them when necessary.

"It's not a question of effectiveness, it's a question of buy-in from the public, from people, from real people," said Stormont.

The biggest disagreement between Reyes and Stormont is clearest when they talk about same-sex marriage, although they don't express disagreement over same sex marriage itself.

Stormont says he would drop Utah's appeal to the Supreme Court. He says the Attorney General can stop defending a law if in his judgment it is unconstitutional.

"When you file an appeal and your opponent who won at the lower court level says, 'Yeah we want it heard too,' I think that tells you what kind of a case you have," Stormont told the press after the debate.

Reyes says Stormont's approach to defending law allows the attorney general to essentially veto a law passed by the legislature or by voters.

"When it comes to laws passed by the people either directly or through their legislators then I don’t have discretion to say I will not defend the law unless the Supreme Court does," Reyes said.

Along with a look at other issues in the race in the story above, we have also posted Fox 13's Max Roth using a visual aid to ask the candidates about their campaign finances.  click here for that video.