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Acting A.G. joins GOP race to replace Swallow

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Brian Tarbet, general counsel to Attorney General John Swallow.

The temporary head of the Utah attorney general’s office is looking to make his appointment more lasting.

On Friday, retired Gen. Brian Tarbet joined eight other Republican candidates seeking to replace John Swallow, who stepped down as attorney general earlier this week.

Tarbet, who days earlier dismissed speculation he might run, said Friday he changed his mind overnight, based on input from friends and family.

He said he would not seek election in 2014 and that his mission would be to “fix an already-great office.”

Tarbet also said he is not concerned about being linked to Swallow, who picked him as his general counsel. Tarbet said he wasn’t involved with Swallow until he arrived in the attorney general’s office in January, days before the scandal broke that has consumed much of Tarbet’s time since.

“If I have an advantage, it’s that I know the office, I’ve been in the office before … and, of course, we’ve learned a number of lessons as we’ve been through the process of these investigations,” Tarbet said. “We have some things we need to work on, no ifs, ands or buts about it. But this is a great office.”

Tarbet worked in the attorney general’s office from 1988 to 2000 (with a break from 1998 to 1999, when he attended the Army’s War College). He was chief of the tax and revenue division. He retired as adjutant general of the Utah National Guard last year and has been the acting attorney general since Swallow left on Tuesday.

The Republican State Central Committee will meet Dec. 14 and choose three names to send to Gov. Gary Herbert, who then will pick Swallow’s successor. The attorney general’s spot will be on the ballot in November 2014.

State GOP Chairman James Evans said support appears to be building among central committee members for someone to serve as a caretaker attorney general.

“I think at least one of the three nominees will be one who says they won’t run for re-election,” Evans said.

In the wake of the Swallow scandal, the Republican Party has set up a panel of attorneys to vet the contenders and their financial statements for potential conflicts of interest.

The party has scheduled a debate Wednesday with the candidates that it plans to broadcast online.

Besides Tarbet, the other candidates running for the office, in the order they filed, are:

Bret Rawson • A reserve Bountiful police officer and a defense attorney, Rawson has defended police officers accused of misconduct. He is also on the legal team representing Marc Sessions Jenson, one of Swallow’s accusers. He says his mission is strict adherence to and enforcement of the law and to lead in a manner that is “ethically beyond reproach.”

Sean Reyes • He lost to Swallow in a Republican primary last year. Reyes earned his law degree from University of California at Berkeley and spent 14 years at Parsons Behle & Latimer before becoming counsel for a Utah tech company. He has said he would be a leader to change the culture and improve morale in the attorney general’s office.

Brent Ward • Spending 15 years as a federal prosecutor, including eight as the U.S. attorney for Utah, Ward had been the lead prosecutor in the case against businessman Jeremy Johnson, another Swallow accuser, and was involved in an aborted plea deal with the indicted St. George business that would have granted Swallow immunity. Ward withdrew from the case earlier this week. He says the attorney general’s office needs a seasoned prosecutor who has handled fraud and public corruption cases and who is ethically beyond reproach.

Michael Wilkins • A former Utah Supreme Court justice, Wilkins retired from that post in 2010. He previously was an appellate judge and an attorney in private practice, specializing in commercial and construction law. The University of Utah graduate has said that, if chosen, he would serve as a caretaker, focused on repairing damage done to the office, and would not seek election in November 2014.

Scott Burns • He spent 16 years as the Iron County attorney and served as deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy — deputy “drug czar” — under President George W. Bush. Until recently, Burns was director of the National District Attorneys Association. He says his goals are to rebuild public trust in the attorney general’s office and restore employee morale. He said he would be willing to serve as a caretaker attorney general if that is what is asked.

Michelle Mumford • Formerly a white-collar litigator in New York City and a staff attorney for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Mumford is the assistant dean of admissions at the Brigham Young University law school. She also serves as secretary of the Utah Republican Party. Her husband is a white-collar defense attorney who happens to be involved in both the Jenson and Johnson cases. Mumford said her husband has “fought vigorously against government corruption … and that’s an ideal I share.” She said she wants to bring a new energy to the office and return the focus to “excellent lawyering.”

Robert Smith • He has been managing director at BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies since 2006 and teaches a course on taxation of religious entities at the university’s law school. He was an executive vice president for CaseData Corp. and practiced tax law for Kirton McConkie. Smith said he is interested in serving Utahns and believes he could bring the high standard of ethics the office needs.

Stephen J. Sorensen • A retired prosecutor, Sorensen spent more than 14 years with the U.S. attorney’s office, including six months as the acting U.S. attorney. He worked for 12 years in the Utah attorney general’s office, including a stint as chief of the litigation division. If he is chosen for the job, he indicated he would not seek election in 2014.

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