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Guest opinion: AG’s endorsement raises ethical questions

By Kathy Adams - Special to the Daily Herald | Jun 27, 2022

Courtesy photo

Kathy Adams

Testimony by three top DOJ officials presented at the fifth hearing of the January 6 committee felt particularly heavy for me. Clearly the patience of former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel, had been strained by a lesser man.

Watching the hearings is a civics lesson in real time. No matter what side of the political aisle, it’s a page-turner textbook in government.

On Thursday, I learned that the Department of Justice does not represent the president, nor does it represent U.S. citizens. Its only client is the U.S. government. Mr. Donoghue gave a step-by-step tutorial in the chain of command and why it’s a really good idea for people in senior positions to know and follow protocol — a protocol specifically in place to maintain the DOJ’s independence from the White House.

“For the department to insert itself into the political process this way I think would have had grave consequences for the country,” Donoghue said.

I was impressed by the absolute clarity of ethical behavior gained by these men through years of experience and held as institutional knowledge. Although there are very few of Mr. Engel’s legal opinions I would agree with, they all stood as examples of why good government is commitment to the job and not loyalty to a person. Adherence to their oaths of nonpartisanship, piqued my curiosity about the rules for Utah’s Attorney General.

I looked up the Attorneys General Ethics Handbook and found the Federal Hatch Act of 1939, passed “to ensure there is not an appearance that electoral politics plays any part in the Department’s day-to-day operations.” Limitations on political activities specific to Utah’s AG require he identify any potential conflicts of interest in providing his legal opinion to the Legislature.

Yet only few days ago, the Daily Herald published an article in which Utah AG Sean Reyes endorsed and praised his friend and co-worker, Jeff Gray, running for the political position of Utah County Attorney. Utah judges are prohibited from even displaying a political yard sign while the top legal officer of the state is freely making endorsements?

This wouldn’t be the first time I witnessed Reyes using his political position to play favorites. At the GOP Convention in April, Reyes eagerly hopped on stage and endorsed Mike Lee before the vote was taken by the delegates. When this breach of protocol was pointed out to GOP Chair Carson Jorgensen, he waved it off.

It seems like common sense that The County Sheriff department has clear rules regulating the “influence of law enforcement interfering in the policy of a government.” And it does, yet in that same DH article  Utah County Sheriff Mike Smith and current deputy Adam Pomeroy officially announced their personal endorsements for Gray. After reading the department’s ethics document, I decided to watch the marketing video produced for The Sheriff’s Department with officers reciting aloud the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics — one of which is “I will never let political beliefs influence my decisions.”

So at least it appears these two law enforcement officials have had a lapse in judgement regarding their sworn Code of Ethics. Further calling into question their character, the two have purposefully spread vicious conspiracy theories about County Attorney David Leavitt (whom Gray is running against). I’m curious, what are the legal ramifications in 2022 of spreading disinformation on the internet — especially in violation of the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics and “interfering in the policy of government”?

Whether Reyes, Smith and Pomeroy can circumvent these rules with linguistic gymnastics, the question remains if the benefit of dirty politics is worth the cost of undermining public confidence and trust in our government. As one citizen recently said, “Public officers have the duty of serving the public uninfluenced by any private interest or motive.”

Kathy Adams was the dance writer at the Salt Lake Tribune (2002-2019) and has written about dance for Salt Lake Magazine, Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine and more.

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