Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman are among the spooky characters hanging out in Mark Shurtleff's office. Plastic models of those Halloween fiends sit on a shelf behind the Salt Lake County commissioner's desk.

Shurtleff was into monsters as a child, always writing about or drawing them. A schoolteacher even once warned him to not turn in another story about ghouls. And though the plot centered on something else, he managed to work them in anyway. "My teacher thought I was weird," he said.

His mother eventually threw out his monster collection, but Shurtleff bought the same figures for his office shelf on eBay.

While Shurtleff likes monsters, he isn't one himself. In fact, he comes across as a nice enough guy, though his relationship with former County Attorney Doug Short had some painting him as a bad guy.

People inside the county didn't particularly care for Shurtleff after Short hired him as a deputy county attorney and he stood up for his embattled boss.

Commissioner Brent Overson, Short's chief antagonist, says he didn't deal with Shurtleff much during the tumultuous time. But "I really didn't find him that difficult to work with," he said.

Overson has come to know him better the past two years and is solidly in Shurtleff's corner as he seeks the GOP nomination for Utah attorney general against fellow Republican and former colleague Frank Mylar. The victor in the June 27 primary faces Democrat Reed Richards, currently the chief deputy attorney general.

"He listens to people. He tries to solve the problems people bring to the commission," Overson said of his fellow commissioner.

Shurtleff said he learned several political lessons from the Short episode, in which disputes between the county attorney and commissioners escalated into a court battle.

First, he said, his role as attorney general would be that of a lawyer defending and giving legal advice to the state, not a policymaker. Second, "you never make it personal . . . That's not the way you get things done." Finally, he said a manager must involve people rather than rule with an iron fist.

Overson also noted Shurtleff has a sense of humor, once poking fun at himself in commission meeting for tearing down a Democratic opponent's campaign sign two years ago. It wasn't funny at the time, though, as Sandy prosecutors considered filing charges.

Shurtleff never believed his action was illegal because his sign occupied the pole first and was removed. He does concedes it was "politically incorrect."

The Sandy property owner has offered him the same pole this year.

"I'm going to put my sign up and see if it stays there," he said. "If it doesn't, I ain't tearing down another one."

Shurtleff almost jumped into the race for the new county mayor post but decided the attorney general's office suits his legal skills better.

"I want to fight crime," said Shurtleff, who oversees the county's criminal justice division. "I want to take Utah off the top of the list in larceny theft and methamphetamine."

When he's not working to move Salt Lake County down on the crimes list, Shurtleff can be found looking for something on the best-seller list. He typically reads three novels or historical biographies at a time, all of which he keeps bedside.

Shurtleff and his wife, M'Liss, have five children ages 16 to 3. The three youngest were adopted from drug-addicted mothers. He's known to cook Sunday dinner at home as well as whip up a few of his specialities now and then.

"My Spanish rice needs to be marketed," he says. "My Spanish eggs are very good, too."

Shurtleff grew up in Salt Lake Valley. He earned an undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and a law degree at the University of Utah. His allegiance meanders when it comes to sports, although he was "true blue" at BYU. "But having the (U.) degree, I can truly go either way. I'm for the one that's going to do the best."

After law school, Shurtleff did a four-year hitch in the Navy's Judge Advocate General Corps in San Diego. He also worked in private practice in Orange County, Calif., before returning to Utah for a job in as a deputy attorney general. He and Mylar worked together in the Corrections Division.

Shurtleff was elected to the County Commission in 1998 despite his association with Short, which caused him some political problems. That's now in the past, and likely won't prove to be much of an issue in the current campaign.

Though he considers himself a conservative Republican, he's apparently not conservative enough for the party's right wing, which he said told him "Sorry, you're not one of us."


E-mail: romboy@desnews.com