Watchdog groups petition Utah governor, want AG with no political ambitions

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Dec 12, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY (Legal Newsline) -- Two government watchdog groups hand-delivered a petition to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert Tuesday, asking the governor to appoint an interim attorney general who will not stand for re-election next November.

In their single-page letter, representatives from Utahns for Ethical Government and the Alliance for a Better Utah ask Herbert, a Republican, to avoid "partisan maneuvering" as he considers the state Republican Central Committee's nominees for attorney general.

Former Attorney General John Swallow, also a Republican, resigned effective last week. Swallow had been fighting allegations of ethics and election law violations since he took office earlier this year.

A total of nine individuals have since filed with the Utah Republican Party to fill the vacancy created by Swallow's resignation. The central committee will send three names to Herbert to consider for appointment. The governor will pick one of the three to fill the office until a special election can be held -- most likely, next November.

"The public's faith in our elected officials has been rocked to its core due to the months of scandal plaguing the Attorney General's Office," the groups' letter states. "The ideal candidate must be someone who is ethically, morally and legally beyond reproach. Someone who is not seen as a partisan insider who hopes to hold the office for the long-term; rather, someone who will take the reins, roll up his or her sleeves, and do what's necessary to restore integrity to the office. And then leave."

The groups said it is imperative that Herbert appoint an interim attorney general who won't immediately start campaigning for election, even if it means going outside of the central committee's suggested appointees.

"If the Republican Party -- my party -- doesn't send the right name to the governor, he should hold off on an appointment until they do," said David Irvine, co-counsel for UEG and board member for Better Utah.

"The corrosive politicalization of the AG's office in recent years has created the perception that the office can be rented out to the shadiest of operators who'll pony up an acceptable bid.

"What's needed to restore public trust is an AG whose stature, proven leadership skills, sterling legal credentials and personal integrity will allow the next year's focus to be on restoring the professionalism of the office and the esprit of its corps of dedicated lawyers."

Doing that and simultaneously running for election are "mutually exclusive," Irvine added.

"Utah needs a believable commitment to public service, not a political power grab," he said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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