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MISUSE OF THE STATE SEAL GETS A NARROW DEFINITION

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The Utah Attorney General's Office has come up with the narrowest possible definition for what constitutes the exotic crime of misusing the state seal.

A felony under the Utah code, the crime is limited to unauthorized use of the actual mechanical device used to emboss official documents, assistant Attorney General Kent Barry said in a newly released opinion.Lt. Gov. Olene Walker, the official custodian of the seal, requested the opinion last year after questions were raised about political campaign-related uses of the seal's likeness by state Sen. Brent Richards, R-Riverton, and Barry's boss, Attorney General Jan Graham.

Richards plastered the seal on nearly 2,500 letters he sent in his unsuccessful campaign for the Salt Lake County Commission. Graham used the seal on personal stationery accompanying some invitations to her annual Law Day celebration, a political fund-raiser.

Both officials voluntarily discontinued using the seal when questions were raised about the legality of its reproduction. State attorneys at the time said it was unclear what constituted illegal use of the seal.

Barry's opinion sides with the narrower interpretation applying exclusively to the mechanical device. Uses beyond that may not be prosecutable.

"The question of reproductions of the seal is one which defies precise resolution," Barry wrote.

Essentially, attorneys dumped the responsibility back in Walker's lap. Barry suggested she screen and monitor uses of seal reprints.

"That's what we have been doing," said Janet Davey, Walker's assistant.

Davey said the office does not authorize use of the seal for political or campaign purposes, or for commercial ventures attempting to use the seal as implying official state endorsement of a product.

A certified public accountant found using it on a business card was told to discontinue the practice, although there was no attempt to determine whether he complied.

On the other hand, Davey said reproduction of the seal on T-shirts, or other souvenir items would be permissible as long as no other advertising or product name was associated with it.