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SALT LAKE CITY — Sean Reyes, the one-time political foe of resigned Utah Attorney General John Swallow, was named Monday by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert to lead the embattled office, vowing to clean house as necessary until integrity is restored.
"As far as leadership and rank and file attorneys, that is my challenge to go in and assess," Reyes said, following a press conference announcing his selection. "We will address those. People who have done anything to embarrass the office will not be there, or they will definitely have to suffer some consequences for their actions."
Reyes stopped short of saying he'd embark on a symptomatic sanitation of the entire office, but he noted he'd work hard to eliminate any residue inflicted by the Swallow scandal.
"I think there are people at all levels who have made mistakes, but I don't think it is a wholesale house cleaning," he said. "There are many, many good, hard-working public servants there, and I feel badly for them because they have been tainted by the decisions of a few."
Reyes, flanked by his wife, Saysha, and five of his six children, said he was humbled by his selection in a process that had been compacted into a short few weeks.
"It makes me want to work even harder and raise the bar even higher."
Herbert plucked Reyes from a field of three contenders whose names he received from the GOP State Central Committee, with Reyes ultimately winning out over acting Attorney General Brian Tarbet, the former adjutant general of the Utah National Guard who has been running the office, and Bob Smith, the managing director of the BYU International Center for Law and Religion Studies.
The son of a Spanish-Filipino immigrant, Reyes received his undergraduate schooling at Brigham Young University and has a law degree from the University of California-Berkley. Reyes was bested by Swallow in a bitter head-to-head Republican primary in June of 2012.
The rancorous contest was best remembered for its allegations of dirty campaigning, ending when Swallow routed Reyes with a 68 percent to 38 percent showing at the primary.
For Swallow, who had been then-Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff's right-hand man for two-plus years, the primary contest victory was a resounding nod of party approval, with him coasting to victory in the November general election to best Democratic challenger Dee Smith.
Swallow resigned earlier this month following months of political scandal that featured accusations of bribes, influence peddling, favors and possible criminal conduct that remains under investigation.
It's somewhat of a vindication for Reyes, who filed a defamation of character lawsuit against Swallow just days prior to the primary election, alleging Swallow and a Nevada Political Action Committee were behind inflammatory and malicious ad campaigns designed to undercut his reputation and performance at the polls.
He said he now wants to dispel the shadow over the office, and cast aside any doubt the public may rightfully have about its credibility and integrity.
"The public wants there to be no question ever again about the attorney general's office — not only on the integrity side but on the quality of work side."
Reyes' announcement to take the helm came amid a flurry of frenzied legal activity in which Utah is fighting to have Amendment 3 — which defines marriage as between a man and a woman — upheld as constitutionally valid by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional on Friday.