Utah A.G. Sean Reyes’ official calendar should be made public, Tribune argues in legal filing

The Salt Lake Tribune filed a brief supporting KSL-TV’s position that Reyes’ calendar documenting his professional travel and meetings should be available to Utahns.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) The office of the Utah Attorney General at the Capitol, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. In a new legal brief, The Salt Lake Tribune argues that Sean Reyes’ professional calendar as an elected official should be public.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ calendar reflecting travel and meetings conducted in his capacity as an elected official should be considered a public document available to Utahns, The Salt Lake Tribune argued in a legal brief.

The brief, filed Wednesday, is in support of KSL-TV, which the attorney general’s office sued in June as part of a records dispute to keep his calendar a secret. Reyes’ office filed the lawsuit after KSL-TV investigative journalist Annie Knox sought his calendar and won a unanimous ruling from the State Records Committee that the document is a public record and ordered its release.

This fall, Tribune investigative reporter Jessica Miller filed her own request for Reyes’ official calendar, part of ongoing reporting efforts aiming to document Reyes’ activities in office over the span of several years. Similar to Knox’s request, the attorney general’s office denied Miller’s, saying that Reyes maintains only a personal calendar — although others on his staff have access to it.

“General Reyes’ daily calendar is created and maintained exclusively for General Reyes’ personal use and convenience in scheduling daily activities,” an attorney for the office argued in its court filing. “It is not an official record of his schedule.”

Miller has appealed the decision to the records committee. She argued that if the calendar reflects official meetings and trips taken while Reyes was being paid by taxpayers, and if others in the office use it to know where he is during office hours, then the calendar is an official record and the voters and taxpayers are entitled to access.

Meanwhile, as Miller’s appeal is pending with the records committee, The Tribune filed a brief Wednesday supporting Knox and KSL-TV’s position — that Reyes’ calendar should be public and turned over to the two reporters.

“The Tribune filed in support of KSL-TV because we know transparency creates stronger government,” Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus said. “News organizations have come together in the past to advocate for documents that belong to the public. We’re doing so here, and I anticipate we’ll do so again in the future.”

Tribune attorney Michael Judd writes in the brief that the attorney general’s office should have neutrally consulted Utah open records laws — called the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA) — when determining if the calendar is a public record, “not its own practical preferences regarding disclosure and secrecy.”

“The complication, of course, is that the requested calendars or schedules create political problems for Sean Reyes, who heads that office. That shouldn’t matter. For GRAMA to work properly, it can’t matter,” Judd writes. “The records at issue in this case … should be released, however politically problematic they may be.”

Merely because the calendar might contain personal appointments, Judd argues, does not automatically exempt the rest of the information from state open records laws. Meetings and appointments that are “truly personal” may be redacted, the attorney acknowledged, but meetings that impact public business should not be withheld.

Based on Reyes’ campaign financial disclosure and his social media accounts, The Tribune previously reported that from the time he won reelection in November 2020 through December 2022 — when the most recent report was filed — the attorney general took at least 30 trips, many to luxury resorts in the United States, Europe and Mexico.

Reyes also took guests on an expedition in Texas, where they shot feral hogs from helicopters, also paid for with campaign contributions.

That donation-financed travel does not include other trips by the attorney general, like those paid by taxpayers or trips paid by other entities. Last year, Reyes journeyed to Qatar to watch the U.S. play in the World Cup soccer tournament, a trip paid for by the government of Qatar through the Attorneys General Alliance.

Subsequent to The Tribune’s reporting, the Utah Legislature initiated a sweeping audit of the attorney general’s office, including the office’s travel policy and Reyes’ friendship with Tim Ballard — the founder of the Operation Underground Railroad who is now the subject of multiple civil lawsuits and two criminal investigations.

On Friday, Reyes announced he would not seek reelection in 2024, reversing an announcement he had made in September. He said he will serve his final year in elected office.