POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Utah AG Sean Reyes announces he will not run for reelection, says he believes women who have accused Tim Ballard

Dec 8, 2023, 4:35 PM | Updated: 7:21 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Embattled Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced Friday he will not run for reelection next year, and also spoke about his relationship with Tim Ballard, saying he “apologized” to the women who were allegedly sexually harassed and assaulted by Ballard when he was working for Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-trafficking group.

Reyes said he is not resigning and will serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2025. He made the announcement in a video released to the Deseret News, and did not make himself available for questions.

Reyes did not address claims he impeded the investigation into OUR. He is the subject of a complaint filed in Salt Lake’s 3rd District Court last month by the same women who’ve accused Ballard. They say he was guilty of possible witness tampering and that his actions impeded an investigation into OUR. He earlier called the allegations “false,” “defamatory,” and “unethical as they are based on pure speculation and have no basis in fact.”

In his statement Friday, Reyes took a more conciliatory tone toward the women and one man who have accused Ballard. He said he thought it was “brave” that they came forward, despite risking “shame and retaliation.”

Reyes said he asked their lawyers if he could meet with them.

“Over the course of multiple days, I sat with these women and one man all with their attorneys present,” he said.

“After hearing their stories in person, I believe them and I am heartbroken for what they have endured and the trauma they will face their entire lives,” he said. “I apologized to each of them that my past friendship with Tim Ballard and strong association with OUR contributed to an environment that made them feel powerless and without a voice to fight back for many years.”

He said he planned to spend his last year in office “working together with these survivors, and any others who come forward, so their voices are heard and they have access to resources and support.”

“Separate from my own work with them, they have now contacted the Utah Attorney General’s Office … to request a criminal investigation into their claims. I am now recused, meaning I will have no involvement,” he said. “But, my office will conduct a statewide investigation of Tim Ballard, Operation Underground Railroad, the Spear Fund or others to determine what criminal conduct occurred, if any, relating to the complaints made.”

Reyes said victim advocates and victim services will be made available to the women and other potential victims who come forward.

“Also, to clarify, I am not joining these survivors’ civil cases in any way,” he said.

Last month, a bipartisan group of Utah lawmakers voted to launch an internal audit of the attorney general’s office, including taking a look at Reyes’ relationship with Ballard and whether that affected his work as the top law enforcement officer.

The OUR Scrutiny

Reyes has been under the microscope because of his close ties of a decade to the embattled OUR and its founder Tim Ballard.

OUR’s facing a barrage of lawsuits from former employees and others who worked with the group. They allege sexual misconduct by Ballard, along with claims that OUR scammed well-meaning donors who wanted their contributions to help fight human trafficking.

Lawsuit accuses AG Sean Reyes of intimidating critic of Tim Ballard, OUR

Reyes is a defendant in one of the civil suits – accused of trying to help Ballard by intimidating an OUR critic. The critic, Suzanne Whitehead, filed the lawsuit, claiming that after she called out OUR for doing harm instead of helping on certain missions, Reyes got in touch with her boss. She was a potential witness in a now-closed criminal investigation into OUR.

Reyes has denied trying to intimidate her. Ballard OUR also has denied wrongdoing.

Not seeking re-election

On his decision not to run again, Reyes did not cite any of his legal troubles related to Ballard and said he believes he would win. His decision, he said, was based on a desire to refocus on his family and private law practice.

“After much prayer and reflection, I know after one more year in office, it will be time to return to my family without an emergency case or crisis constantly pulling me away. It will be time to get back to clients and law partners. I have accomplished nearly everything I came to do as AG,” he said.

In his statement, Reyes pointed to his roots “as the son of an immigrant family from humble beginnings, and the first statewide elected minority in Utah history … .”

He also highlighted what he sees as many of his accomplishments in office, including suing social media companies and insulin makers. He also said he was “privileged to work closely with Congress and the president to establish the nationally “988” Mental Health Hotline.”

Former Gov. Gary Herbert appointed Reyes attorney general in 2013, following the resignation of former Attorney General John Swallow. Reyes won subsequent elections in 2014, 2016 and 2020.

Other Republicans had already been openly eyeing the attorney general’s office even before Reyes’ announcement Friday.

State Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, told the Deseret News he’s “looking at the race. Advisers around me are encouraging me to get involved.” He said whether Reyes decided to run again was a factor in his decision.

Former state Republican chair Derek Brown has also shown interest. Brown sent the Deseret News a statement from Herbert, which was also posted on social media, that said, “As Chair of the @derekbrownutah Attorney General exploratory committee, I’ve spoken with countless community leaders. The support has been overwhelming. With this support, the committee will be making an exciting announcement during the coming week. Stay tuned… .”

Democrats call for resignation

After Reyes’s announcement, the Utah Democratic Party called for Reyes to resign from his position due to his relationship with Tim Ballard and O.U.R., and the alleged efforts to silence Ballard’s accusers.

“When Sean Reyes assumed the role of Attorney General ten years ago on the heels of another scandal-ridden Republican, he vowed to restore trust and integrity to the office. In reality, he has done the exact opposite, using his position for political and personal gain at every turn,” said Utah Democratic Party Chair Diane Lewis in a written statement.

Lewis says the decision is “good news” for Utahns, but believes Reyes needs to resign as she believes he would spend “the next year continuing to abuse his position of authority and failing to do the work of the people.”

Victims’s Response

An attorney representing the OUR victims released a video statement to KSL TV, appreciating Reyes for meeting with them and hearing their stories.

“In response to his video, (the victims) have graciously considered and accepted the attorney general’s apology and are grateful for all future efforts from the attorney general’s office towards transparency and accountability,” the attorney said.

The attorney says Reyes is the first and only person to recognize what has allegedly happened to the victims.

“The victims view this as a positive first step towards acknowledging the pain caused by Mr. Ballard, OUR, and the other entities and individuals included in our lawsuit,” the attorney said.

Contributing: KSL TV’s Eliza Pace and Michael Houck

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Utah AG Sean Reyes announces he will not run for reelection, says he believes women who have accused Tim Ballard