As Attorney General Sean Reyes joined a court brief supporting Donald Trump in his legal fight over documents seized from his Florida estate, a group filed an ethics complaint against the Utah Republican over his continued defense of the former president.
Reyes is among 11 GOP attorneys general who filed an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief last week accusing the Biden administration of “ransacking” Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and seeking to ensure the return of documents seized by the FBI.
The filing came in response to the Justice Department’s appeal of a decision to block the agency from viewing classified documents taken from the house until they can be reviewed by a third party. A federal district court has appointed a “special master” to review the materials and prevented the DOJ from using them in the meantime.
The DOJ has argued that delaying its investigation would harm national security, but the Republican attorneys general say in the brief that the court should view the department’s assertions of good faith, neutrality and objectivity “through jaundiced eyes.”
Noting the states joining the brief, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, have frequently sued the Biden administration, the brief says that “gamesmanship and other questionable conduct” has become a hallmark of the administration’s litigating, policy making and public relations.
The brief, filed in the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, says the court should allow the document dispute to proceed before a neutral special master.
Reyes’ office said he has no comment on the legal filing.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat, said Reyes shouldn’t get involved in the dispute.
“The role of AGs and prosecutors is to hold people accountable when there is evidence of wrong doing. Not assist those who violate the law actively evade accountability. @SeanReyesUT let the courts do their job, and stay out of the way,” Gill tweeted.
Last week, a group called The 65 Project filed an ethics complaint against Reyes with the Office of Professional Conduct, which investigates allegations against attorneys in Utah, over his “concerted” effort to overturn legitimate 2020 presidential election results.
The 65 Project, whose advisory board includes former Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Christine Durham, derives its name from the 65 lawsuits Trump-allied lawyers filed in swing states challenging the 2020 election. According to its website, the group aims to hold accountable lawyers who bring fraudulent lawsuits seeking to overturn legitimate election results or who violate their professional responsibilities to undermine democracy.
The 13-page complaint accuses Reyes of using public office to “amplify false assertions and frivolous claims that lacked any basis in law or fact.”
Reyes’ office said he has no comment on the allegations, but pointed to a similar complaint that was dismissed last year.
Days after the 2020 election, Reyes announced he was taking personal leave to “help prepare and support litigation” in battleground states where Trump lost. He traveled to Nevada where he said he found evidence of “voting irregularities.”
The ethics complaint specifically notes that Reyes joined a Texas court brief in December 2020 supporting a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging election results in Pennsylvania and other states that Trump lost.
Reyes said in a statement at the time that Utah joined the brief because there are questions about the election process and constitutional integrity that need to be answered nationally. He said the high court must decide whether state legislatures or the courts determine the time and place for voting.
Then Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox, both Republicans, condemned the action at the time, saying Utah shouldn’t intervene in other states’ elections and that it’s an unwise use of taxpayer dollars.
“Mr. Reyes, though, has a history of using taxpayer dollars to support his political ambitions,” according to the complaint.
In March, Politico reported that Reyes is gearing up to challenge Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney in 2024. Romney, who has not said whether he will seek reelection, twice voted to convict Trump in impeachment trials.
Calling Reyes a Trump loyalist who served as Utah co-chairman for Trump’s reelection campaign, Politico said Reyes had one-on-one meetings with the former president in September and December 2020 during which Trump encouraged him to run against Romney.
Reyes’ involvement in lawsuits looking to overturn the 2020 election led the left-leaning Alliance for a Better Utah and the centrist United Utah Party to call for his resignation last year. A Democratic state lawmaker also opened a bill file to impeach the attorney general, arguing he misused the powers of his office.
Reyes also was the subject of a previous ethics complaint filed with the Office of Professional Conduct after he signed on to the Texas amicus brief in December 2020.
In an April 2021 letter to Reyes, the office determined that there was not sufficient evidence showing he violated the rules of professional conduct. It also noted that in his response to the allegations, Reyes argued that lawyers are not precluded from being creative in lawsuits and arguing novel legal theories.
The office said the attorney general has independent authority to represent the state’s interests, which he believed he was doing in joining the brief.
“While many constituents disagreed with your decision as evidenced by the complaints, it is assumed that other constituents supported your decision,” the office wrote.