Candidates for Utah attorney general come out swinging
Debate • Republican contenders challenge each other’s credentials.
Published: May 19, 2012 09:02PM
Updated: August 28, 2012 11:34PM
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Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo Utah attorney general candidate John Swallow is locked in a tough battle with Sean Reyes. The two are battling for the Republican nomination and the right to face Democrat Dee Smith in November.

Heber • The first debate between John Swallow and Sean Reyes was supposed to be Lincoln-Douglas style.

Instead, it sometimes looked more like a Pacquiao-Mayweather boxing match.

For about 45 minutes at the Wasatch High School auditorium, the two Republican candidates for Utah attorney general challenged litigating credentials, experience and leadership before a crowd of about 100 Saturday afternoon.

Reyes, an attorney in private practice, ripped Swallow, Utah’s chief deputy attorney general, for saying he has led the fight against President Barack Obama’s health care law — saying Swallow has been over-hyping that claim on the campaign trail.

“You’re absentee,” Reyes said flatly. “That’s not what we need in a leader and a manager.”

Reyes was referring to claims made by former Utah Solicitor General Annina Mitchell, who publicly refuted Swallow’s claims that he’s made in campaign literature saying he led the fight against the president’s health care law.

Mitchell had said she was “disappointed” that Swallow “feels it necessary to mislead Utahns about his role.”

Swallow, holding his microphone, stared squarely at Reyes before responding.

“Wow,” he said. “That’s all I can say is wow. You are so misinformed Mr. Reyes and you know it.”

Swallow said Mitchell had a minimal role as a part of the raft of attorneys general that argued the health care reform law before the U.S. Supreme Court. Swallow said the attorney general’s office asked Mitchell to “be involved in a very little part” of the case.

“She was not part of our executive team,” Swallow said. “Sean, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’d appreciate it if you got your facts straight.”

The debate was moderated by former Utah Republican Party Chairman Stan Lockhart after current chairman Thomas Wright canceled after being delayed in Reno.

Lockhart also scrapped the Lincoln-Douglas-style debate — which would’ve allowed the first candidate to make a 60-minute opening, a 90-minute rebuttal and then a 30-minute response. Instead, each candidate submitted pre-written questions read by Lockhart. Candidates had 45 seconds to respond.

The questions initially were rhetorical.

Reyes came out swinging by asking when Swallow had been the first chair in a case. Swallow asked Reyes if he’d ever worked on a large case before. After both answered — citing large bankruptcy cases — Reyes pressed again by asking Swallow what his Martindale-Hubbell rating was. That rating is run through a private company that collects data on attorneys.

“One of the funniest things is to listen to two lawyers talking about what nobody understands,” Swallow said.

Reyes also attacked Swallow on his past work as a state lawmaker and lobbyist and alleged Swallow was doing legal work outside of his role in the attorney general’s office when he started working for Mark Shurtleff. Swallow said when he transitioned to public practice, state law allowed him to finish up cases he’d started while in the private sector.

“If you do your research and if you’re as careful of a lawyer as you say you are, you’d know the answer to questions before you ask them,” Swallow said.

When it came to issues like demanding the federal government turn over lands to the state, both agreed it was the attorney general’s job to fight for Utah to have federal land returned and vowed to do so.

In a straw poll at the end of the third annual Rocky Mountain Conservatives event, Reyes took 62 percent of the vote.