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Sean D. Reyes
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Op-Ed: Chief Deputies on AG Recusal from Senate Bill 54 Lawsuit


Recently, there have been a number of commentaries and letters to the editor assailing the decision by Attorney General Sean Reyes to recuse or “wall himself” off from participation in the state’s defense of Senate Bill 54, the “Count My Vote” legislation.  As two of the four senior lawyers in the AG’s office who recommended that course of action to the Attorney General, we feel compelled to correct the record.

Well prior to the passage of SB 54, Attorney General Reyes had offered both financial and vocal support to those seeking to maintain the caucus system of selecting candidates for both political parties.  When the compromise legislation of SB 54 was passed, some were disgruntled with that legislation and have now filed suit challenging the bill.  Under the ethical canons by which all attorneys, especially the elected Attorney General, must conduct their professional lives, real and perceived conflicts of interest must be avoided and they may not participate in cases in which the perception exists that their professional judgment may be clouded.  This is not an optional consideration; it is mandatory, and recusals of this type are routinely necessary in both private law firms as well as public legal offices. Members of the Attorney General executive team, including the AG, have recused themselves in other cases where there may be a perceived conflict.

Attorney General Reyes was concerned that his earlier support of the caucus system might be seen by some as reducing his ability to fully and fervently defend the case. The members of his executive team agreed that he had at least a perceived conflict of interest, and he then recused himself from the case.  Nonetheless, he made clear that his intent was that SB 54 be vigorously defended, but that he would play no further role in the conduct of the case.

The defense of SB 54 is our duty in the Office of the Utah Attorney General. Lead counsel in the defense of SB 54 is the Federal Solicitor and Chief of Staff for the office, assisted by two senior litigators, one of whom has over twenty years of elections experience.  It is the role of the undersigned to see that this team is fully and properly resourced to defend this legislation.  We pledge that will be done.

If it was only a philosophical conflict, the AG would not have recused. But realizing the potential perception of bias, he did what a good attorney should.  His was not a political decision; it was an ethical one and made with sound judgment.

Brian L. Tarbet
Chief Civil Deputy
Utah Attorney General’s Office

Spencer E. Austin
Chief Criminal Deputy
Utah Attorney General’s Office

Op-Ed: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on Protecting Children from Modern Day Slavery

Jan. 30, 2015 — Most Americans are unaware that modern day slavery exists in the form of human trafficking. To many, the phrase “human trafficking” elicits connotations of a tragedy present only in far flung, third world countries. And while trafficking of men, women and children truly is an international evil of epidemic proportions, it hits much closer to home in terms of victims and demand.

The U.S. Justice Department estimates that each year in the U.S. as many as 300,000 American children are at risk of being trafficked for commercial sex. The Polaris Project, an organization combating all forms of human trafficking, reports that 41 percent of sex trafficking cases and 20 percent of labor trafficking cases in the United States referenced U.S. citizens as victims.

In Utah, the 2002 abduction of Elizabeth Smart held our entire state engrossed in angst and fear for nine months until her miraculous return. But the horrors she suffered, including rape and abuse, are unfolding by the millions stateside and abroad. The U.S. State Department estimates that in 2014, more than 20 million victims were being trafficked. Such trafficking has already surpassed arms dealing and is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable criminal enterprises worldwide.

I have six children ranging from 4 to 17 years old — similar in age to many who are held in captivity as child sex slaves. My father emigrated from the Philippines, where millions of Filipinos are estimated to be trafficked between several Asian nations. The demand for this type of depravity is sadly alive and well and the majority of the demand internationally comes from American men.

That is why, as Attorney General of Utah, I am so personally committed to combating human trafficking. Last year alone, we shut down several illegitimate businesses in Utah acting as fronts for women trafficked from abroad. These victims had been drugged, beaten, isolated, raped and forced to engage in sex for money here in my own state. Last year we also prosecuted the highest profile child trafficking case in Utah history wherein a foreign crime boss, here illegally, not only trafficked kids for sex but forced them to sell drugs.

To prevent foreign trafficking operations from infiltrating my state, I traveled to South America a few months ago on an undercover mission with Operation Underground Railroad (OUR), a nonprofit established to combat child sexual trafficking around the world. My team and I split up among three cities, where scores of young girls were held as sex slaves.

Carefully coordinating with local law enforcement, and with the enthusiastic blessing of our governments, we executed a sting that liberated from sexual slavery 127 girls (10 to 16 years old) while sending the traffickers to prison. By training local law enforcement with cutting edge technology and investigative techniques, we empowered them to combat these evils long term. International organizations worked with us to return girls to their jubilant families.

Last year the U.S. House of Representatives passed a series of bills to combat human trafficking. Recently, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate strengthening law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute individuals committing human trafficking crimes. These efforts are significant, but there is much work to be done to prevent this darkness from growing domestically and abroad.

The first step is to educate and bring awareness to our fellow Americans. We can and must do our part because the lives of these children and their families depend on it.

Utah Supreme Court Unanimously Affirms Convictions in State v. Jones

SALT LAKE CITY (Jan. 30, 2015) — The Utah Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the murder, aggravated robbery, and drug-dealing convictions of Michael Jones in State v. Jones. Nearly two years after hearing oral argument, Assoc. Chief Justice Nehring authored the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Durrant, Justice Durham, Justice Parrish and Justice Lee joined concluding, “We determine that each of Mr. Jones’s challenges to his convictions for murder, aggravated robbery, and unlawful distribution of a controlled substance fail. Accordingly, we affirm his convictions.”

“We have some of the most capable and skilled attorneys in the nation working in the Utah Attorney General’s Criminal Appeals Division,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes. “This unanimous decision by the Utah Supreme Court is evidence of the excellent appellate work performed in our office. Assistant Attorney General John Nielsen’s dedication to justice was an important element in this final outcome.”

The victim, Tara Brennan was a Stanford graduate and law student in California who struggled with a cocaine addiction and returned home to Utah to overcome her drug problem. She was found strangled to death in her car in 2004.  After the police exhausted all leads and suspects, the case went cold for two years until a new kind of DNA testing (called Y-STR DNA, which focuses on the DNA of the Y chromosome) implicated Michael Jones. She met Jones near the homeless shelter and together they bought and smoked cocaine.

The evidence (found under the victim’s fingernails) showed that Jones was one of a very few people who could have left it.  Police also found Jones’s DNA on a cigarette in the victim’s car.  The court held that the Y-STR DNA evidence was reliable enough to be admissible to show identity, even though it did not identify Jones as the only possible contributor.  Jones claimed various errors by both the trial court and his counsel, but the Supreme Court held that all lacked merit, many of them because any error would not have made a difference in light of the compelling DNA evidence.

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Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova Charged Today in Utah’s Seventh District Court

Carbon County, UT Dec. 4, 2014 — Assistant Attorney General Matthew E. Lloyd and Attorney General Sean D. Reyes filed charges today against Carbon County Sheriff James Cordova in the Seventh District Court in and for Carbon County, State of Utah. Based on an investigation led by Special Agent R. Ed Spann of the Attorney General’s Office, charges include a third degree felony for allegedly misusing public money, a third degree felony for alleged theft, and a class C misdemeanor for an alleged license plate and registration card violation.
“The AG’s office is extremely supportive of law enforcement and works closely and effectively with Sheriffs’ offices throughout the state. At the same time, allegations of breaching the public trust are a serious matter and our office has worked diligently and professionally to investigate and file charges on Sheriff Cordova’s alleged wrongdoings,” said Attorney General Sean Reyes.
General Reyes also cautions, “The Sheriff is presumed innocent and people should allow the legal process to take its course without prejudging him or his alleged actions.”
Sheriff Cordova has been offered proceeding by summons with his first court date will be January 12 not yet available.

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Attorney General Reyes Joins Multiple States in Lawsuit Filed in Texas Challenging President Obama’s Unilateral Executive Action

SALT LAKE CITY Dec. 3, 2014 — Today, Attorney General Sean D. Reyes signed onto a multi-state lawsuit filed in Texas challenging President Obama’s unilateral executive action regarding deportation and illegal immigration. The lawsuit is based on a constitutional challenge to the President bypassing Congress and exceeding his executive authority. Secondarily, to the extent he had any rule making authority, the lawsuit addresses how he failed to comply with statutory requirements.

Attorney General Sean Reyes stated: 

“This lawsuit is not about immigration policy. Whether you agree or disagree with some, all or none of the President’s proposal is not the point. The process is what is being challenged. The process is not legal. Regardless of how you feel about the policy, it does not justify implementation in an unconstitutional manner. 

We need solutions from Congress. The President is not the only one frustrated by Congress’s impasse on this issue. But, when states like Utah attempted to address the issue through legislation, they did so with the belief that it was through a proper exercise of sovereign police and other powers and an understanding that the courts would check that power if not. 

It was President Obama, through the Justice Department, who argued states were preempted from passing laws related to immigration because Congress had exclusive jurisdiction for enactment of such laws.  Ironically, the President has now done the exact thing he claimed states were not permitted to do. As with the states, the President’s attempt at lawmaking should be reviewed by the courts. 

While people of goodwill can debate the merits of his policy, even the President has acknowledged that he is not above the law and that his powers are limited by Congress’s exclusive authority in this area.

The President, regardless of political party, must respect the rule of law and a balance of powers. At the same time, Congress has not only the legal authority but also the responsibility to take up matters such as these no matter how difficult they may be.”

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Attorney General Sean D. Reyes Op-Ed

Op-Ed: Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes on President Obama’s Executive Order

Dec. 3, 2014 — “One of the pillars of our constitutional form of government is a separation of powers, vesting in Congress the power to legislate and in the Presidency the duty to faithfully execute the law.

However, by executive fiat this past Thursday, President Obama obliterated that pillar and circumvented safeguards that provide order to our republic.

Regardless of how one feels about immigration policy, the President’s process of new policy implementation should be of great concern to us all. There is a proper role for Executive Orders, in harmony with Congressional intent.  But this is not it.

The President justifies his actions as being borne out of frustration—as if indignation alone can endow him with a power he has readily acknowledged is not his.

In 2010, President Obama said, “I am not a king. I can’t do these things by myself.” He was responding to the idea of rewriting immigration laws unilaterally. In other words, he was saying he did not have the authority to take “executive action” on immigration.

Also in 2010, he said “such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair.” In 2011, at a Univision town hall, he said ignoring the laws on the books “would not conform with my role as president.”

As recently as March of this year, he said “I cannot ignore…laws that are on the books,” noting that he is “constrained in terms of what I am able to do.”

By one count, President Obama said 22 times that he lacks the constitutional authority for such executive action.

Now, though, he’s doing exactly that, ignoring the law and usurping authority the Constitution has vested in Congress, not the White House.  He either changed his mind completely in just a few months or lied to the country—over and over again.

As the Attorney General of Utah, it is my job to defend the laws of our state and I take the rule of law seriously. I swore an oath, just as President Obama did, to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Americans should be concerned, outraged even, that our president would ignore that oath for political expediency.

It’s hard to understand how the president could go back on his word in such dramatic fashion. What changed?

For one, the President is no longer accountable to voters. He’s not up for re-election and his party lost badly in the mid-term elections. And when a new Congress takes office in January, he will face a Republican controlled Congress that is ready to take up immigration issues for the first time during his two terms.  Politically speaking, the president has nothing to lose.

Unfortunately, the country has a lot to lose when a president ignores not only the limits to his power but also the will of the American people expressed through our representatives. It weakens the entire constitutional order and our system of checks-and-balances.

If the president thinks he has the authority to act unilaterally, what can’t he do? Can he justify any action? What else will he try to do in his final two years? And what further precedent does this set for future Presidents of any political party to ignore constitutional safeguards.

In February of 2013, during a White House Google hangout, President Obama said, “I’m the President of the United States. I’m not the emperor of the United States. My job is to execute laws that are passed.” That was true then. That is true now. I had hoped, for the sake of our country and constitution, that President Obama actually believed that.”


Public Meeting Notice: School Safety Tip Line Commission

The School Safety Tip Line Commission is meeting Wednesday, November 12, from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM. The meeting will be held at the Capitol Complex in the East Senate Building in the Kletting Room. The agenda is as follows:

1. Approval of Minutes
2. App, Text, Phone, Web Report
3. Mental Health Care Provider Report
4. Private/Public Partnership
5. Working with the Board of Education and Utah Counties
6. Discussion
7. Reporting
8. Next Steps
If you would like to attend, please feel free. This meeting is open to the public. More information about the meeting can be found at Information about the Commission can be found here.

Utah Prosecution Council

Click here for the UPC website


The purpose of the organization [Utah Prosecution Council and the Statewide Association of Public Attorneys using their combined efforts] is to effectively and accurately represent and advocate the interests of public attorneys; to enhance and facilitate communication and coordination within the organization and with other entities; to provide quality, relevant training through full participation of all members with an exchange of information and experience; to coordinate programs among public attorneys to assist all members to better perform their duties.


A. To be respected
Action Steps

  • Strive to deliver a “quality product”
  • Prosecutors’ offices should be staffed with experienced and well-trained staff members who receive appropriate compensation
  • “Pick our battles” and pursue a consistent, statewide approach
  • Take a more active part in the Utah State Bar

B. Facilitate communication
Action Steps

  • Establish and maintain a brief bank; issue position papers stating the members’ positions on issues of concern to public attorneys; organize and maintain an ordinance and forms bank
  • Create a computer network linking all offices
  • Implement regional exchanges of information and assistance
  • Facilitate professional and social interaction between public attorneys

C. Accurately and adequately represent and express the views of the members
Action Steps

  • Actively pursue the legislative aims of the members; regularly meet with regional representatives chosen by members in the various regions of the state; disseminate position papers to other agencies, the press and the public; poll members from time to time to accurately determine their positions on various topics (consensus)
  • Meet regularly with other law enforcement organizations; be proactive relative to other organizations–actively approaching them for purposes of establishing common grounds; join and associate with other organizations and groups
  • Sponsor an annual legislative forum where public attorneys and associated public agencies can formulate a coordinated legislative strategy

D. Facilitate appropriate and timely training
Action Steps

  • Actively seek out and use highly qualified training presenters
  • Maintain the present “no tuition” policy at training conferences
  • Organize regional training, thereby reducing members’ travel costs and time away from the office
  • Do a training needs assessment of the members
  • Require meaningful handouts from presenters

E. Facilitate member participation
Action Steps

  • Positions to be decided by a vote of all members
  • Pursue regular contact with less active members by officers, staff and by active members, thereby encouraging full participation by all members
  • Ask members to serve on ad hoc committees
  • Provide for and actively seek involvement from deputies and assistants
  • Provide for regular rotation of leadership

Special Investigations


Tip Line: 801.281.1200

The mission of the Investigations Division is to identify, apprehend and prosecute violations of the criminal laws of the State of Utah and the United States through professional investigation of criminal complaints.

The Investigations Division may investigate the following:

  • Complex white-collar and financial crimes
  • Public corruption
  • General fraud
  • Child abuse and exploitation, which includes sex abuse, physical abuse, homicide and child pornography
  • Cybercrime, internet fraud and identity theft
  • Difficult crimes associated with closed societies
  • Criminal environmental complaints
  • Antitrust complaints
  • Significant street crime, including homicide, aggravated assault, and sex crimes where a local authority requests our involvement


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