National GOP group uses questionable claims to label attorney general candidate as ‘lawless liberal Greg Skordas'

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Attorney Greg Skordas, now the Democratic nominee for Utah attorney general, talks on October 14, 2016.

After spending $450,000 to help Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes survive the GOP primary, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) has now pivoted to attack his Democratic rival in the November election, labeling him “lawless liberal Greg Skordas.”

But the partisan group didn’t give the full story in some decades-old quotes and news reports that it used to try to justify that description. It prompted Skordas to say, “The dirty part of politics is starting to show its head again.”

As an example, RAGA said that when Skordas was a prosecutor, “Instead of charging alleged rapists in court, Skordas instead said that ‘the public embarrassment alone was far more punishment than most people get.’”

It sounds damning enough that Alan Crooks, Reyes’ campaign manager, said, “It’s just inexcusable if the allegations in the RAGA statement are true.”

However upon deeper inspection, they appear to rely on a sizeable dose of exaggeration or distortion of context.

RAGA did not list a source for that damning Skordas quote in its news release, but after inquiries from The Salt Lake Tribune, it said it appeared in a Jan. 23, 1994, Sunday Oregonian story about the effects a year after three runaway teens in Utah accused members of the Portland Trailblazers of rape before a game with the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.

In the story, Skordas lamented that the players were never charged in part because Utah then had one of the nation’s youngest age limits, 14, for statutory rape. He and then-Salt Lake County District Attorney David Yocom said it prevented charging the Trailblazers because prosecutors could not prove the girls had been enticed or coerced.

Skordas said the players would have been charged elsewhere where statutory rape age limits were higher. And he praised the Trailblazers for suspending and fining the players involved anyway.

“That was good. I thought the team handled it quite professionally,‘' Skordas was quoted. “But the public embarrassment alone was far more punishment than most people get. A guy who sells cocaine on the street, nobody hears anything about that. He does his 30 days and he’s on his way. Those players weren’t even charged, but everybody knew about it. Their reputations were hurt.‘'

The RAGA news release also doesn’t give the full story in some of other claims as it said “lawless liberal Greg Skordas will endanger public safety in Utah through his checkered past of failing to ensure justice for the most vulnerable Utahns including victims of child rape.”

One of its allegations was that Skordas delayed prosecuting a rape trial so often “that the child victim gave up and walked away.” When the Tribune asked for a source, RAGA referred to a March 13, 1995, Tribune story.

The article says Skordas signed off on four delays requested by the defense early in the case. At the time of the story, Skordas was no longer a prosecutor but was a defense attorney — and talked about how some defense attorneys try to delay rape cases as a strategy hoping it will cause witnesses not to testify.

RAGA also said in its news release that “Skordas did not file charges in a timely manner against 27 inmates including two rapists, and as a result, they were released from the Salt Lake County Jail and onto Utah’s streets.” RAGA later said the source was a June 29, 1994, Tribune story.

In it, court officials blamed prosecutors including Skordas for the mass release, while prosecutors blamed 3rd District Judge Dennis Fuchs.

Judges then working during weekends usually gave prosecutors until Tuesday afternoon to file charges for people arrested on a weekend. Fuchs gave prosecutors until a Monday afternoon to file charges, leading to the release.

Skordas defended his record against the attacks on Monday.

“I am proud of my record as a prosecutor, as a victim advocate, and as a defense attorney. My opponent has never done any of those things,” he said. “I can’t attack his record as a lawyer in our criminal justice system because he has none. I’ve had to take on the hard cases; and I am very proud of my history in Utah’s Courts.”

Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, defeated by Reyes in the GOP primary, had previously criticized RAGA for spending $325,000 for independent campaigning for Reyes in the race, plus giving Reyes $125,000.

Leavitt said those donations essentially bought Reyes’ support for RAGA’s partisan efforts, such as pushing for the release of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. He also accused RAGA of “money laundering” by accepting checks from groups that did not disclose their donors, funneling in “dark money.”

“Reyes takes money from anybody who’s willing to give it to him, no matter who they are, no matter what their motivations,” Skordas said Monday. “He has continued to put the ‘for sale’ sign on that office.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Attorneys General Association on Monday took a swipe at Reyes.

In a news release, it called him “an anti-health care politician who is currently wasting taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit to eliminate coverage for more than 100,000 Utahns and end protections for 1.2 million Utahns with pre-existing conditions. Sean cares about one thing only: cozying up to Trump no matter the cost.”

Crooks chose not to respond to that.