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Shurtleff surrenders soapbox
Politics » Gregarious, independent A.G. known for impromptu outbursts is off to work at a law firm; his spotlight-shunning successor will be a sharp contrast.

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"In the interest of justice and mercy, the time has come to bring closure to Debra Brown and everyone," he wrote.

That set off a flurry of meetings and eventually a press conference where Shurtleff recanted his tweet and explained that his office would appeal the judge’s decision. Paul Murphy, his longtime spokesman, said it was one of many examples where Shurtleff’s gut reaction was on public display.

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"When I first started working for him, one of my big fears was about how this guy cries all the time," Murphy said. "He wears his heart on his sleeve, and people attack that vulnerability. That’s the thing that hurts the most — he’s attacked in the area that’s the strongest part of his character."

Shurtleff said it’s always been a delicate balance between being the state’s top law enforcer and staying true to his human instincts.

"I was letting my emotions inform my decision in that regard. The problem is, in this job, you can’t make decisions based on emotion — it has to be on the law and facts," he said. "After my wife and I saw ‘Les Miz’ — which is about justice and mercy — I immediately thought of Debra Brown. Was I so much rule of law, the law and the facts that I couldn’t bring in the mercy? That became the big question."

To this day, he said the main concern was about the precedent set by the factual-innocence statute and what the judge’s decision meant to future cases.

He said then — and now — that he’s not that interested in seeing Brown return to jail.

"This isn’t Javert — ‘prison, damn it! That’s the only thing that’s good for you!’ " Shurtleff said. "This was the very first time factual innocence had been used by a judge, and the argument to me was he didn’t follow the statute."

But Shurtleff has used Twitter the other way, too. In 2010, he tweeted about the execution of Ronnie Lee Gardner.

"I just gave the go-ahead to Corrections director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims," Shurtleff tweeted. In hindsight, he said he was still new to the social-media scene and might’ve done things differently.

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Immigration wars » In 2010, it was Stephen Sandstrom facing off against Shurtleff over Utah’s enforcement-only immigration law.

Sandstrom, a Republican state representative from Orem, had crafted a bill inspired by Arizona’s SB1070 law that required local police to check the legal status of people they pulled over. Shurtleff didn’t like the law and battled its passage.

But Sandstrom, who has since come around closer to Shurtleff’s position on illegal immigration, said at the time they had a series of private sit-down meetings to discuss the issue.

"Mark is an extremely caring person and on the issue he wanted to push it and let the chips fall where they may," Sandstrom said. "We talked a lot, and many of the changes I made to my bill came because of those meetings."

The friendship was tested when, in December 2011, a group of lawmakers sought to bring in private lawyers to defend Utah’s enforcement-only law HB497. Shurtleff was incensed and, after talking with Sandstrom, the legislator said he would only support the attorney general defending his law in court.

One of those who thought Shurtleff wouldn’t defend the law — which will now be argued in federal court on Feb. 5 — was Chris Herrod, a former Republican state representative from Provo.

He thought Shurtleff had been tepid in defending it in court.

"He met the bare minimum of what he was supposed to do," Herrod said.

Shurtleff argued he has been defending HB497 vigorously because it isn’t the same as SB1070. He also has been a force on immigration reform — in the state and nationally — by helping craft The Utah Compact and testifying for Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, on her legislation that sought to grant work permits to undocumented immigrants in Utah.

Robles said his role in the immigration debate can’t be overstated and pointed to his support for in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, support for driver-privilege cards and backing Utah’s guest worker law HB116 — set to take effect in July, though there are rumblings the Legislature will revise the measure.

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