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Attorney general candidates likely meet residency requirements

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 11:15 a.m. MST

Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013. Two candidates to replace former Attorney General John Swallow may not meet the state's residency requirements, according to a report released Friday by the Lieutenant Governor's Office.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Two of the candidates to replace former Attorney General John Swallow likely meet residency requirements or soon will, according to a report released Friday by the lieutenant governor's office.

But the report submitted to the state Republican Party stops short of coming to a final decision about the residency status of Scott Burns and Michelle Mumford, both of whom lived out of state during the past five years.

"The reason there's no hard conclusion is, first of all, this is a two-day review. We haven't looked at all the case law," said Mark Thomas, state elections director. "That's why we didn't just make it a slam-dunk."

The report found that the rest of the field — Sean Reyes, Bret Rawson, Michael Wilkins, Robert Smith and Brian Tarbet — all met the requirement that candidates for attorney general live in the state at least five years before the election.

The state GOP Central Committee will meet Saturday to choose three nominees. Their names will be forwarded to Gov. Gary Herbert, who will name the successor to Swallow.

Swallow, still the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations of influence peddling, stepped down late last month. Voters will decide in November 2014 who will serve as attorney general through the remainder of Swallow's term.

State Republican Party Chairman James Evans said all seven candidates will be on the ballot at Saturday's meeting, calling the residency issue resolved. The party sought the opinion this week.

"The questions were raised and that was appropriate. Now we've got them answered," Evans said. "This should not be an issue for (the central committee) to have to consider."

Scott Burns, the former Iron County attorney, has worked in Washington, D.C., since 2005, first as a deputy drug czar under President George W. Bush and then as head of the National District Attorney Association until recently.

The report found that Burns appears to have made a deliberate attempt to remain a Utah resident and to keep his voter registration in Utah, even though he obtained a Virginia driver's license and moved his family to Virginia.

His efforts "hold considerable weight," the report stated, and other factors "don't appear to be sufficient legal arguments to determine Burns lost his Utah residency."

Burns said it's "misleading" for the report not to include his name among the candidates who meet residency requirements. He said the report may give central committee members pause.

"It's just one more thing to consider about this particular candidate, 'Does this mean we have to wait for a legal opinion?' Simply, it's just not helpful," Burns said.

Thomas said he didn't realize the report could be seen as confusing when it comes to Burns.

"We weren't trying to purposely do that. We were trying to be very careful and deliberate," he said.

Thomas said Burns should have been included on the list of candidates who meet the requirements, with a notation about his situation.

The report said Mumford, state party secretary and assistant dean of admissions at the BYU law school, may have become a resident as soon as Dec. 20, 2008 — just a week shy of five years ago — or as late as the following January.

Mumford said the report "certainly doesn't help me and kind of seems like it sandbags me." The report said it's not clear when she established residency during a move from California.

"I've never seen this as an issue," Mumford said. "I believe that I am eligible."

On Wednesday, residency questions led to federal prosecutor Brent Ward dropping out of the race. Ward had voted in Virginia while working for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

Thomas said the voting records of Reyes, Rawson, Wilkins, Smith and Tarbet were all examined by the office and nothing was found to indicate they had left the state in the past five years.

The report, signed by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, pointed out because of the "limited time frame to determine the facts and to conduct a thorough legal review, our office is not in a position to make final conclusions" on residency qualifications.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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