On New Year’s Eve Day, 2013, I read Sean Reyes was appointed Utah Attorney General. I emailed to wish him well. I hadn’t seen Sean for five years; it was over ten since we worked at the same firm.
I had left Parsons Behle & Latimer to work for a mentor and judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. After working in Washington, D.C. in a Supreme Court and Appellate practice, I returned to Utah to work as an Assistant Federal Defender, a job I loved.
Sean left the firm after making partner and building a reputation as a respected lawyer on big cases locally and nationally. He became General Counsel, where he used his experience in law and entrepreneurship. He was the first ever National Young Lawyer of the Year recognized by the American Bar Association and had just about every other distinction imaginable bestowed on him for success in the courtroom as well as his leadership, integrity and seemingly endless volunteer service. His achievements came as no surprise because he’s always been a natural leader.
After his appointment, we talked about the challenges facing him. As young lawyers, our mentors drilled into us the ethos that a respectable legal practice isn’t just about winning any given case; it’s about practicing law with integrity that promotes a healthy justice system. Our mentors called it “winning the right way”; they meant it, and you didn’t last if you didn’t practice that way. Sean campaigned and practiced that way and believed encouraging that ethos would help the AG Office.
Sean asked if I’d serve as his Chief of Staff. I asked if he was kidding. I am an “Independent,” by nature, critical of government and political parties. In law practice, I witnessed abuses of power in federal government, which I considered wasteful, unethical and generally bad for our country. He responded that he knew many other lawyers who would tell him “yes” but he trusted me to tell him “no” and he wanted such a perspective. He said he could use help opening up the office and letting the figurative sun and breeze in. I agreed.
Immediately, Sean remade the office, luring top private sector talent to work with the best from within as senior management. He re-evaluated office leadership, division by division. I watched him fight for better wages for professionals who worked years without income close to what they honestly earn. I have seen workers in the office who started tentative and seeming somewhat demoralized, now flourish and enjoy law practice and service again.
Sean leads with humanity and compassion. He is kind, genuine, has tremendous integrity and a humility that is disarming. A genuine person of the people, he talks to interns and janitorial staff and will interrupt meetings to greet schoolchildren visiting the Capitol. Yet he is also a fierce advocate. I have seen him speak to power and forcefully stand against bullies whether in business or politics.
He defended the democratically enacted marriage laws of the State with vigor and resolve, but also met with community leaders on all sides to make sure cases were handled with respect for all. He also surprised this defense lawyer, as he voluntarily stopped our office’s use of administrative subpoenas, requiring instead judicial oversight before gathering any Utahn’s personal information. He has led with decisiveness and diplomacy, compassion and strength.
Ten months ago colleagues in the federal system expressed concern over my job change. I’m still “Independent,” but I am inspired by what I’ve witnessed Sean Reyes accomplish in a short time. He has a work ethic that is as infectious as it is demanding, and we are fortunate to have him as Utah’s Attorney General.