The two candidates for Utah Attorney General come from different areas of the law, and each point to it as an advantage.
“My opponent has never prosecuted a criminal case,” Weber County Attorney Dee Smith says of John Swallow, currently chief deputy over the civil division of the attorney general’s office. “If someone wants to be the state’s top prosecutor, they ought to have that background before they are attorney general.”
“I have nothing bad to say about Dee Smith,” Swallow said. “I have all the respect in the world for him — in his present position.”
Swallow said Smith is correct — he has never prosecuted a criminal case.
“But the job of attorney general is much more than that,” he said, such as leading the seven civil divisions with more than 100 lawyers as he has as the chief civil deputy to Mark Shurtleff since December 2009.
Shurtleff, a Republican who has spent three terms as Utah Attorney General, is not seeking re-election.
Smith, 44, a Democrat, has been taking cases to trial before both juries and judges since his first stint in the Weber County Attorney’s Office beginning in 1998.
After working there until 2002, he spent seven years as a public defender in Box Elder, Weber and Davis counties before his 2009 appointment to his current position as Weber County’s top prosecutor.
In all, he said, that amounts to more than 50 criminal trials he has argued as either a prosecutor or defense attorney.
Cases have run the gamut from murder and gang crime to child neglect cases handled in the juvenile court, another place he said Swallow has never been.
Swallow, 49, a Republican, admits the closest he has come to criminal cases is consulting on criminal appeals strategies. The attorney general’s office defends the state in all criminal appeals.
“But I have more breadth to my candidacy,” he said, with the “litany of issues” he has dealt with on the civil side of the law in such areas as public lands access and health care.
“I bring six years in the Legislature, versus (Smith’s) more narrow experience.”
Swallow represented a Sandy district from 1996 to 2002 in the Utah House of Representatives. He also made unsuccessful bids to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson in 2002 and 2006.
Smith plans to use his criminal experience to make the attorney general’s office a stronger partner with key local players, his top priority if elected.
“My approach will be to work closer with local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to protect Utah families and keep our communities safe,” he said.
“Every community is different. Cedar City has different problems than Ogden. It’s important to work closely with those who are on the street and can identify the problems and know what the needs are.”
Swallow said his top priority would be the 66 percent of the state that is federal land.
He has already taken the lead in lawsuits his office filed in June in 22 Utah counties to maintain public access on 12,000 sites where roads cross federal land.
He was also in the lead in a 2010 lawsuit, still pending, filed against a presidential order that would have begun the process of creating a wildlands category of federal tracts, similar to wilderness designation.
“Land-use issues are going to be important to me, not only the enjoyment, the recreational uses, but the benefits of creating more jobs and developing the revenues to fund education,” Swallow said,
“With all the natural resources we have underground, we have lost a lot of our ability to access federal land under the current (Obama) administration.”
Smith promised a less-political attorney general’s office.
“I feel it should be a nonpartisan office. Partisan politics will not play a role in my running of the attorney general’s office. It hasn’t played a role in my running of the Weber County Attorney’s Office,” he said.
“My decisions will only be based on the law and what’s best for the people of Utah.”
The major achievement to date Smith cites is the Trece injunction, which cracks down on Ogden’s oldest street gang.
It’s the first such injunction in Utah, after some success in California and a few other states. It bans Treces from associating in public, being in the vicinity of guns, drugs and alcohol in public, and sets an 11 p.m. curfew.
He brought in California prosecutors to educate his office and Ogden police on the use of the injunctive approach and its effectiveness.
“We’ve argued it before the Utah Supreme Court. ... It’s significantly reduced gang crime in Ogden, and we’ve won every court battle over it to date.”