The Utah lieutenant governor's office is reviewing the residency status of the Republican candidates seeking to replace former Attorney General John Swallow after questions surfaced about whether several met the constitutional criteria for the job.
Three candidates Â Brent Ward, Scott Burns and Michelle Mumford all lived outside Utah in recent years. Ward and Burns worked for the Bush administration in Washington while Mumford lived in California before moving to Utah.
The Utah Constitution requires the attorney general to have been a resident of the state for five years.
All three say they believe they meet the requirements and will be in the running when the Republican State Central Committee huddles Saturday to choose three names to send to Gov. Gary Herbert as possible Swallow replacements. Herbert will pick one who will serve until an attorney general is elected in November 2014 and takes office in January 2015.
"The lieutenant governor's office is reviewing the residency status of all of the candidates," said Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans, "and they're going to issue a report Thursday."
Evans appointed a panel of six GOP attorneys to vet the contenders vying to replace Swallow and said the process is working. The committee is expected to release its review of the candidates Thursday as well.
The Utah Constitution requires the attorney general to be 25 years old, admitted to practice law in Utah and in good standing. He or she must also have been a state resident for five years leading up to the election.
Under state law, Utahns have to maintain a principal residence, meaning they plan to return to the home and stay indefinitely. Residents lose their status if they vote in other states, move their family, or plan to stay in another state indefinitely.
A person doesn't lose residency if he or she is a student, is incarcerated, is living on a military installation or serving the state or country.
Former federal prosecutor Stephen Sorensen, one of nine candidates to file for the job, has dropped out.
Burns has worked in Washington since 2002, when he became a deputy director at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He worked as executive director of the National District Attorneys Association in northern Virginia since 2009. But Burns, a former attorney for Iron County, said he always maintained his primary residence in Utah.
"I was very careful about that when I moved out here," he said, "because Utah is and Cedar City is and always will be my home."
Burns said he maintained his voter registration in Iron County and voted in nearly every election. He kept his Utah bar license in active status and did not seek a license in Washington or Virginia because, he said, it might create the appearance he had cut ties with Utah.
He's had a home in the Beehive State since his father moved the family to Cedar City in 1960 and kept his law office, cabin and bank account in the state. He was required to get a Virginia driver license and to register his cars in that state. He also was required to pay income taxes there.
"Residency is primarily a state of mind with respect to where your home is and where you live and it's always been primarily Cedar City, Utah, and I've done nothing to set residency anywhere else," Burns said, suggesting those questioning his eligibility are doing so as a political tactic.
Likewise, Ward who has spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor, including eight as the U.S. attorney for Utah said he believes he is eligible to be attorney general.
"I've always considered myself a resident of the state of Utah," he said. "We went to Washington with the clear intent to return and we went at the invitation of the Bush administration. I didn't seek the job. I was in the service of the United States at the time and that is the basis for preserving residency."
Ward wouldn't say if he maintained a residence in Utah or if he voted outside the state, because the issue is still being reviewed by the panel of GOP attorneys.
Mumford, assistant dean of admissions at Brigham Young University's law school, said she and her family moved to Utah from California in December 2008.
"It's right at five years, so it's just a matter of making sure I can show we intended to stay here then. We had a physical presence in the state then," Mumford said. She acknowledges she's cutting it close on residency, but believes she qualifies for the office.
Meanwhile, officials from Utahns for Ethical Government and the Alliance for a Better Utah, a pair of good-government groups, delivered a letter to Herbert on Tuesday urging him to pick a caretaker for attorney general who can focus on setting the office straight.
"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," said the letter. "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."
David Irvine, an official in both groups, said that if such a candidate isn't among the three names the Republican State Central Committee sends to the governor, he shouldn't make an appointment until it finds someone suitable.
A.G.'s spokesman is leaving
Paul Murphy, the longtime spokesman for the Utah attorney general's office, is leaving his post after a turbulent year, taking a job at Rocky Mountain Power.
Murphy joined the office in 2001 and handled communications under all three terms of Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's tenure. He stayed on during the rocky 11-month stint of Attorney General John Swallow, who left amid a series of investigations and a report that found he violated state election laws.
During that time, Murphy served as director of Utah's Amber Alert program and spoke on its implementation at national conferences. He also represented the office on the Safety Net Committee, which organizes services for people seeking to leave Utah polygamous communities.
"While he had an incredibly difficult post the past year, Paul remained poised and professional," said Ally Isom, the former communications director and deputy chief of staff for Gov. Gary Herbert. "His nationally recognized work on the Amber Alert is without peer and he should be commended for making a real difference to those families whose children were safely returned."
In an email to staffers Monday, Murphy said he accepted the job Friday and would be leaving in about two weeks.
"Even though I am leaving I will never stop cheering your wins, grieving your losses and bragging about the amazing work you do," Murphy wrote. "This past year has been difficult but I will be always be proud of my association with the Utah attorney general's office."
Murphy previously was a reporter at KTVX Channel 4.
The Utah Republican Party will host the eight candidates for attorney general in a debate tonight [Wednesday] from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The debate will be broadcast across the Utah Education Network to a location in each county and attendees at the location will be able to ask questions of the candidates. The event will also be streamed on the Utah GOP Website at utgop.org. To see a list of locations, go to sltrib.com.