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With a distinctive cultural flavor, Sean Reyes was sworn in Monday as Utah's attorney general, vowing to uphold strong ethical standards and do what is right, not just what is politically expedient.
Reyes, originally appointed to the office more than a year ago after former Attorney General John Swallow left amid a corruption scandal, is Utah's first ethnic minority elected to statewide office. He credited lessons from his Filipino, Spanish, Japanese and Hawaiian ancestors with forming the pillars for how he approaches the job.
"It is my great hope I can continue to lead the A.G.'s office, lifted by the pillars of God, family and country and further lifted by the gift of my parents' example and the many cultures that have blessed me throughout my life," Reyes said. "I am energized every day by what I know we can accomplish for the state and its citizens."
Reyes' father, Buddy Reyes, who Reyes said toured with Bob Hope and had celebrity status in the Philippines before fleeing the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, played Filipino and Hawaiian songs. The inaugural ceremony also featured a Spanish guitarist, Buddhist and Pacific Islander drummers, and a children's choir.
Reyes touted the reforms he has enacted in the 12-plus months since he inherited an office rocked by the most sweeping political corruption scandal in Utah history.
"A year ago we were faced with serious distrust by the public in our office, a demoralized workforce, dissatisfied clients," Reyes said, " … and we were tasked with handling cases of great importance to the state and nation, as well as investigations internally and externally into our office.
"We have spent a year returning integrity to the highest levels of the A.G.'s office," he stated, saying his mission has been "to not make decisions on what is politically convenient or personally advantageous, but on what is right under law."
In late December 2013, Reyes took over soon after a federal judge had struck down Utah's ban on same-sex marriages. His office, with help from a contracted legal team, appealed that decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and lost. It then turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, which let the ruling stand.
Reyes' office briefly defended a ban on adoption by same-sex couples, pushed for a change in the oversight of a multimillion-dollar trust fund for Hildale polygamist families and worked to put together a potential lawsuit demanding the federal government turn over millions of acres in Utah.
Internally, Reyes restructured the office's senior staff, created a new internal ethics committee and established a public integrity unit.
In November, Reyes topped Democrat Charles Stormont in a landslide, amassing more than 60 percent of the vote.
Reyes is now filling the final two years on Swallow's original term.
Swallow, who stepped down less than a year into his term, currently faces 14 charges, 12 of them felonies, stemming from alleged wrongdoing during his time as attorney general and a top deputy in the office. Swallow's predecessor, Mark Shurtleff, is staring at nine felony counts. Both men say they are innocent.
Monday's ceremony marked the third time in two years that Utah has sworn in an attorney general.
The oath, administered by Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee, hit a glitch when Reyes' wife, Saysha, noticed midway through the oath that her husband had his wrong hand on the Bible. Reyes switched hands, and Lee restarted the oath.