The Utah Republican Party selected three finalists Saturday to replace former Attorney General John Swallow, who stepped down last week amid ongoing allegations of bribery and misconduct.
The party’s central committee, meeting in Sandy, forwarded the names of Sean Reyes, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet to Gov. Gary Herbert.
Herbert, also a Republican, will choose one of the three to serve as the state’s top law enforcement officer until a special election can be held in November 2014.
The seven Utah attorneys who vied for the temporary post pledged to restore public trust in an office that has been rocked by allegations of misconduct this year.
Swallow stepped down last week, citing the personal and financial toll of multiple investigations. He repeatedly denied wrongdoing for the nearly 11 months he was in office and pledged to clear his name as a private citizen.
He has been accused of arranging a bribery plot and offering protection to Utah businessmen in trouble with regulators in return for favors. He has been or is currently being investigated by the state elections office, two county attorneys, the Utah House, the FBI, the Department of Justice and the Utah State Bar.
He has disputed all of the allegations made against him and has called it a “perfect storm” of accusations.
Among those seeking to take over the attorney general’s office, Tarbet is serving as the temporary head of the office and has pledged not to run next year. Reyes is a Salt Lake City attorney who lost to Swallow in last year’s primary, while Smith is the managing director of Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies.
Reyes was the first candidate selected by the more than 150 Republicans on Saturday, garnering 62 percent of the vote in the first round of balloting.
The voting continued until two more candidates won a majority of the votes in a round of balloting. It took until the third round to choose Smith and the fifth round to pick Tarbet, the Deseret News reported.
Herbert said he does not have a fixed deadline to make his choice but hopes to decide before Christmas. He plans to interview and vet each candidate.
“I think I’ve got three great people to choose from,” Herbert told The Salt Lake Tribune.
The governor said he understands both sides of the argument over whether Swallow’s successor should be focused on running in 2014 and wants to hear more about the candidates’ visions for the office.
“Whoever is in there needs to get in there and have a review, top to bottom, and get the attorney general’s office back on solid footing to restore confidence and move ahead, whether they’re going to run for office again in 2014 or not,” Herbert told The Tribune.
The three finalists said they hope to rehabilitate the image and credibility of the office.
The Utah Democratic Party issued a statement Saturday questioning the caliber of the candidates considered by Republicans.
The party said leaders such as former Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, former Supreme Court Justice Michael Zimmerman and Republican state Sen. Lyle Hillyard are beyond reproach and would restore the public’s faith in the office.
“These are candidates who are outside the business-as-usual politics of Capitol Hill,” state Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said. “(They are) people who would have the political courage and moral compass to make sweeping ethics recommendations with teeth and would correct the course in the attorney general’s office.”