A legal group claiming Attorney General Sean Reyes has used his position as Utah’s top law enforcement official to chase trivial lawsuits on behalf of former President Donald Trump has formally filed a complaint with Utah’s legal oversight authority. But this isn’t the first time Reyes has faced this type of complaint.
The 65 Project – a self-described bipartisan group of lawyers who aim to hold other attorneys accountable for frivolous lawsuits following the 2020 presidential election – says they filed an ethics complaint on Wednesday against Reyes, accusing him of misusing his office to “amplify false assertions and frivolous claims that lacked any basis in law or fact,” according to the group’s complaint.
Wednesday’s ethics complaint alleges Reyes violated state rules by engaging in legal action he should have known to be frivolous, saying “although attorneys, of course, maintain First Amendment rights, the actions in question here cross far beyond protected speech.”
“Mr. Reyes chose to offer his professional license and public trust to Mr. Trump’s arsenal during the latter’s assault on our democracy,” the ethics complaint says. “He cannot be shielded from consequences of that decision simply because he holds high public office.”
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The group of lawyers said they filed the complaint to the Utah Office of Professional Conduct (OPC), an office that fields complaints about bar-certified attorneys and can take disciplinary action if they deem necessary.
According to its website, OPC is responsible for investigating allegations made against attorneys for violating rules of professional conduct set in Utah State code. The OPC is also responsible for prosecuting any allegations in district court that they deem necessary.
The determination of whether or not an attorney has violated rules or deserves disciplinary action isn’t up to OPC. That decision lies with the Utah Supreme Court, either through the court’s Ethics and Discipline Committee or through the state’s district courts.
If the OPC investigation finds that Reyes’ conduct violated state law, the office could take him to Utah court. A judge there could then decide to acquit or reprimand the attorney general. If the district court judge or Utah Supreme Court chooses the latter, Reyes could face a formal condemnation or have his law license revoked.
When reached for comment, a spokesman for the attorney general said, “The AG’s Office feels the ethics complaint is ridiculous.”
For Reyes’ office, the allegations made in the complaint are not new.
In a letter dated April 12, 2021, and shared with The Salt Lake Tribune, OPC wrote to Reyes regarding “complaints” filed against him in January 2021. The letter explains the complaints were based on Reyes’ decision to sign onto a lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That lawsuit, brought forward by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, asked the high court to invalidate election results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately dismissed the lawsuit, which Reyes said was disappointing. Paxton is currently facing legal action from the Texas state bar over his lawsuit, according to the Texas Tribune.
In their letter, OPC said that Reyes has explained that “lawyers are not precluded from asking for extension of law or being creative in lawsuits and arguing novel legal theories,” and Reyes maintained “the Texas Bill of Complaint raised important constitutional questions that other states had an interest in, including Utah.”
“You have independent authority to represent the interests of the State of Utah and its citizens as a whole, which you believed you were doing by joining the amicus brief,” the letter to Reyes said. “While many constituents disagreed with your decision as evidenced by the complaints, it is assumed that other constituents supported your decision.”
OPC later said the investigation would be closed without further action, adding that “based on (Reyes’) response and the related court rulings and analysis, determined that there is not sufficient evidence to establish that your conduct rises to a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.”
When contacted, a representative of the OPC said he could not comment on whether or not complaints have been filed against specific individuals, including Reyes. The representative also said OPC cannot comment on previous complaints that have since been closed.
Michael Teter, managing director of The 65 Project, told The Tribune that the group has filed similar ethics complaints against 15 state attorneys general and 55 total ethics complaints. Teter, a former University of Utah law professor, said the group is optimistic about the prospect of OPC investigating and prosecuting Reyes.
In addition to the Texas lawsuit, Reyes also traveled to Nevada in late 2020 to investigate the state’s election. He later said he believed there was evidence of voting “irregularities” in the state. Then-Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox decried Reyes’ visit to Nevada, calling the attorney general’s trip an “unwise” use of Utah taxpayer’s resources.
And earlier this week, Reyes signed on to another court brief, also filed by Paxton, alleging the White House searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence for political gain.
Teter, who lives in Utah and has been a state bar member since 2018, said he was frustrated to see the state’s top attorney disregarding the legal profession for partisan reasons.
“We want to do justice and we want to abide by the rules of professional conduct, and to see the highest ranking lawyer in our state disregard that oath and disregard those rules, largely for its own political gain, is frustrating and angering,” Teter told The Tribune. “We want to make sure, as lawyers, that there are consequences and accountability.”
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