Attorney general candidate Stormont wants to reform the office
Charles Stormont is the Democratic nominee in the upcoming election for Utah Attorney General. He is a trial lawyer and civil litigator who has worked in the attorney general’s office since 2008. He recently spoke with The Park Record about why he’s running and why citizens of Summit County should vote for him.
Stormont is running on a platform of reform — of the office of attorney general and the public’s faith (or lack thereof) in it.
"We’ve seen some profound problems in the attorney general’s office and rather than continuing with the same structure and the same way of doing things in the office, I’ve been advocating for real reform in the office, creating a state ethics office, changing the way cases are assigned, so that we open up opportunities for more voices to speak up if there are problems and give those voices a place to go to raise their concerns," he said. "We need to solve those problems and make sure they cannot happen again, rather than just holding our breath and counting on, basically, the integrity of one person to keep it from happening again. Let’s set up real structural reforms that give everybody confidence that it can’t happen again."
Stormont said that some of the basic structures of the office — such as the way cases are assigned to attorneys in the office — have contributed to the scandals that prior attorney generals Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow created.
"I would say that folks are too isolated, which makes it very difficult, even for the most dedicated public servant, to stand up in the face of problematic behavior by leadership. If you’re out on an island, and the big boss comes in and says you’re going to do X, Y and Z, it’s harder to stand up in that situation when you’re isolated and on an island. That’s why I want to change the way cases are assigned, to, again, to bring more voices to the table, to give people more backup, to increase opportunities for public servants to right wrongs that they see," he said.
For far too long, the attorney general’s office has lacked basic technology that private law firms utilize, Stormont said.
"We don’t have our priorities straight because we’re decades behind the times, technologically. Basic tools that I had when I first started practicing law in private practice, still don’t exist in the AG’s office and it makes it harder for the public servants there to do their work and when you make life difficult, you make it difficult," he said.
Is that the result of a lack of resources or a lack of leadership?
"I think it’s a failure to properly prioritize and we spend a lot of money on losing case after case after case instead of focusing on serving the people across the board," he said.
Stormont’s opponent in the race — the current attorney general, Sean Reyes — led Utah’s legal fight against same-sex marriage over the past year. That fight appears to now be over and Stormont has been critical of Utah’s legal tactics throughout the process.
"I think the way that it happened speaks volumes to the lack of merit of the case that the state was attempting to pursue. Not even four justices on the Supreme Court were willing to hear the case," he said. "I think it speaks volumes about the lack of merit of the underlying case that was being presented by the state. And I think it speaks a lot to the fact that we’ve been tilting at windmills and pursuing a political battle that doesn’t have a strong legal foundation."
"It’s important to recognize that the attorney general is an independent part of our government and it’s a check on abuses of power by the other portions of our government, by the legislature, by the governor. And the AG has an affirmative duty to protect people’s rights. And I think that’s the clearest line where the AG, even in the face of a piece of legislation or even a referendum, people’s rights are being affected, the AG has a duty, and there are cases that go back 100 years that say this, the attorney general has a duty to stand up for the people’s rights, not to stand up for the machinery of government."
Public lands, and the push for Utah to take over more land in the state that is owned by the federal government, is another area where Stormont thinks resources may be wasted by the attorney general.
"The idea that we should require the federal government to give the lands to Utah, it blatantly violates Utah’s constitution, and so that’s not a lawsuit that I would waste more taxpayer dollars on," he said. "The problems that need to be addressed, we have to address them by negotiating with the federal government. And by filing a terrible lawsuit that we know we’re going to lose, we actually hurt Utah’s ability to negotiate, so I would much rather spend our resources wisely, helping Utah instead of hurting it."
"I want to see people using legitimate avenues to solve problems instead of pursuing ones that we know are not going to work," he said.
Though Stormont said he is not a registered Democrat, he is the Democratic nominee, putting him at a clear disadvantage in a state as red as Utah. How does he expect to win?
"One of the things I’ve found as I’ve traveled this state is when you talk to people that have hired an attorney, in a personal capacity, you ask them, did you wonder what party your lawyer was affiliated with, and they always say no. I think the same is true with attorney general — it’s about leadership and ideas, it shouldn’t have anything to do with party because the practice of law shouldn’t be political," he said.
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Court report: Week of June 22