SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) -- A Utah lawmaker, in an editorial earlier this week, continued his push to make the state's attorney general an appointed post instead of an elected one.
State Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Davis and Salt Lake counties, wrote in an opinion piece for Utah's Standard-Examiner Monday that it "makes sense" for the governor to appoint the state's top lawyer.
"Unlike other elected officials, Utah's attorney general decides who will be prosecuted criminally and who will be given a pass. Although some think the AG represents 'we the people,' the Utah Constitution makes it clear that he is the legal advisor to state officials. If you believe the attorney general represents you, then call his office and ask for legal advice. You will be told that you are not their 'client.' But the governor is," Weiler wrote.
Weiler first pressed for the change back in March, no doubt because of Attorney General John Swallow's growing legal troubles.
Swallow, who took office in January, is under fire for possible election law violations and has been accused of ethics violations in recent months.
The change, Weiler contends, would help ensure Utah has the best attorney, not the best politician, for its chief law enforcement officer.
He first argues that elections politicize the role of attorneys general.
In 2010, Weiler notes, 25 percent of the elected attorneys general in the U.S. were running for governor.
On top of that, the process of campaigning induces bad behavior, he says.
"It leaves the perception of a relationship between fund-raising and political patronage," he wrote in the editorial. "Some AGs have referred profitable cases to outside law firms, thereby incentivizing them to contribute. The attorney general may have limited incentives to regulate or sue those who contributed to their campaign."
Also, he says, most voters are not keeping themselves informed of the attorney general's performance.
"The problem is increased when the candidate is not an incumbent," Weiler wrote. "Elections are also susceptible to false and misleading campaign advertisements, a problem often spotlighted in judicial elections as well.
"With an appointment process, a greater pool of qualified candidates may also emerge."
According to the National Association of Attorneys General, the attorney general is popularly elected in 43 states, and is appointed by the governor in five states -- Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Wyoming -- and in the five jurisdictions of American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
In Maine, the attorney general is selected by secret ballot of the legislature, and in Tennessee, by the state Supreme Court.
In the District of Columbia, the attorney general is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council. However, that will change in 2015. At that time, the Attorney General's Office will become fully independent of mayoral control.
To read Weiler's complete editorial, click here.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.