An article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week contrasted the positions of the “major party” candidates for Utah Attorney General. Mr. Reyes, the appointed incumbent, believes it is his job to defend the laws of the State of Utah as far as he can, including seeking review in the U.S. Supreme Court. Mr. Stormont, on the other hand, believes that it is not in the interests of the State to continue to appeal a case that is very expensive, and is hopeless. The difference is indeed important, but the Tribune did not ask the really important questions, and did not get the important answers.
Mr. Stormont is a career State employee. When he inevitably loses his race for Attorney General, he will go back to being as assistant Attorney General, and doing what he is told. Today, while on leave of absence, he talks about changes in the office; but he does not talk about the changes that are really necessary. Because the important issues have not been addressed by the “major party” candidates, I have chosen to make one more effort to put the important issues before the public.
The Attorney General is an elected position, in the Utah Constitution. Some have suggested he (or she) should be appointed by the Governor. The U.S. Attorney General is appointed, and he serves at the pleasure of the President. In Utah, the Attorney General is independent and makes policy for the legal department. He often files “friend of the Court” briefs in cases around the country, to support legal positions he believes are important and correct. He makes important decisions as to how to interpret and enforce the law. He can decide what civil actions to file, and what appeals to take. He has “Prosecutorial discretion” as to what criminal charges to bring, and when to make “plea bargains” in the interest of justice. In most of these cases, it will make little difference which of the “major party” candidates might be elected. It will be business as usual, either with the Republican politician or the career bureaucrat.
I am the consummate outsider. I have never worked for the government, and I am not influenced by what government employees think is good for the government. I prefer to look at the job as legal counsel for the people of the State of Utah, and will work to promote their interests.
The “war on drugs” has become a war on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The police have been trained to see this important right as a “technicality”, to be dodged when possible. If there is a suspicion of drugs, they WILL find a way to get into your car or your house or wherever they think they are. And the basis for their suspicion can be weak. They might say they smell the odor of marijuana. It is hard to deny that, because there is no physical evidence left over from that smell. Or, they may say there is an air freshener in the car, in an effort to prevent them from smelling the drug. In a recent case, a client was held on a minor traffic case, while dogs were brought in, because a check of her driving record showed a previous drug violation. If I am elected, one of the first things I will do is insist that all police officers receive training on the Fourth Amendment, and why it should be important to them as well as those who are suspected of wrongdoing.
Separate from the Fourth Amendment implications, the whole question of putting people in jail for nothing other than possessing a small amount of marijuana (or other drug, for that matter) for personal use, should be re-examined. It is a terrible policy, and it is making a whole generation of young people into criminals. I would do my best to stop the “war on marijuana users”. I am the only candidate who would do so.
There are other examples of our major differences. A few years ago, I represented a man who spent over 4 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. We filed a legal action to collect compensation, as set out in law, for such situations. To my dismay, the Attorney General fought us tooth and nail; and they won at the trial level. I appealed to the Utah Court of Appeals, and I won. The day the State issued the compensation check, I cried, because I knew that my efforts had brought justice for one person, despite the best efforts of the Attorney General to prevent it.
I am now involved in a couple of cases where regulatory agencies have asserted authority far in excess of what the actual legislative act gives them. Without exception, the Attorney General pushes for the most oppressive interpretation of the law. If I am elected, I will expect regulatory agencies to rein in their tendencies to over-regulate.
In 2004, the people of the State of Utah voted to eliminate most “civil Forfeiture”. This is done by filing a civil action against the PROPERTY of someone who may be suspected of a crime, and the property has no constitutional protections. The property is then taken by the police for their own use, even without a criminal conviction. I have had several cases where people have carried more money than the police think is reasonable. The money is taken from them, and it is up to them to show that they were not going to use it to purchase drugs, or for other illegal purposes. This should never happen, and I will work to change the policy of the State back to what the people voted for by ballot in 2004.
I have more experience in the legal system than either of my opponents; and I have seen first hand the kinds of things that the State has done to increase its power at the expense of the individual. If I am elected, you can count on a wholesale change of attitude in the Attorney General’s office. Tell a friend.
The revolution is here. You have nothing to lose but your chains.