ASIAN AMERICAN NEWS NETWORK (AANN): Sean Reyes — Standing up to Bullies

Sean Reyes is Utah’s 21st Attorney General and has been serving the state as Attorney General since 2013. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Brigham Young University and pursuing a law degree at UC Berkeley, Reyes would go on to work for a number of law firms and companies in Utah. Throughout Reyes’ distinguished legal career, he has earned many awards including the 2006 Utah Young Lawyer of the Year from the Utah State Bar and the 2007 Outstanding Young Lawyer for the Nation from the American Bar Association. When the call to serve for public office appeared, Reyes didn’t hesitate. Despite losing the primary election for the 2012 Attorney General of Utah position to John Swallow, fate would have it that Reyes would replace Swallow amidst a scandal in 2013. Reyes hasn’t looked back ever since. If he is to win this November, he is looking to serve out a third term as Attorney General.

Initially, Reyes was not seeking a career in law. Born to a half Japanese and half Hawaiian mother and a Filipino and Spanish father, law “was always really interesting” because of deep familial ties (Reyes’ great-grandfather graduated from Cornell Law School). Even so, Reyes was more interested in literature and poetry at the time and was actually considering a major in English. However, Reyes soon changed his mind after discovering that law would give him the opportunity to “stand up for the little man.”

Reyes’ father was a famous artist and painter in the Philippines, but unfortunately he had to leave everything behind to avoid serious harm from the Marcos regime. He eventually landed in Los Angeles with no money, but established his own American Dream by doing art and film. He later married Reyes’ mother, a schoolteacher. Although the two were barely scraping by, they were grateful to be Americans. According to Reyes, “Taking the oath of citizenship to become an American citizen was one of the greatest days for my dad.” In the 1970s and 1980s, “when there were no big indie films,” Reyes’ father was constantly sued by powerful companies and individuals. “[My father] was sued not because he did anything wrong, but because other people could use lawyers as a cudgel and bludgeon to intimidate and bully [my father],” recounted Reyes. Reyes aspired to protect his father and “make wrongs right.” As a self-described “geek” ever since he was a kid, Reyes understood what “fighting bullies” entailed. Knowing that he could only “level the playing field” by entering law, Reyes decided to pursue a career in law instead of English: “Law inspired me principally because of its ability to protect people’s liberties, rights, and property.”

“Law inspired me principally because of its ability to protect people’s liberties, rights, and property.”

After a stint working in the private sector for firms, companies, and non-profit organizations, Reyes felt compelled to serve the public interest. Today, as Utah’s top lawyer, top law enforcement, and top counsel, he has the ability to “serve justice” on a widespread level. Nevertheless, Reyes understands that “With great power comes great responsibility.” In his opinion, “The state is a powerful force, and sometimes restraint is necessary.”

As Attorney General, Reyes has largely avoided partisan politics in order to focus on issues that unite Utah citizens. Half of his office manages civil matters, while the other half manages high-level crime such as child sex trafficking, cyber crime, and white-collar fraud. Besides the daily enforcement of laws, Reyes has helped create a task force to fight against the opioid epidemic as well as making mental health a priority. “Politics are divisive enough, so I wanted to find issues that were non-partisan and something for all citizens to rally around,” explained Reyes.

"Politics are divisive enough, so I wanted to find issues that were non-partisan and something for all citizens to rally around."

In order to adequately perform his job on a day-to-day basis, Reyes often works long, overtime hours. When the legislative is in session, it is not uncommon for him to work 80-90 hour workweeks. Reyes is proud to work hard: “It’s fortunate to live in America… The freedom we have to disagree, the ability to transfer power and change laws peacefully…” From time to time, Reyes has the unique opportunity to work as an undercover operative in a third-world country. He discovers that many of the people in these third-world countries are good people, and the laws in these countries are mostly fair and equitable. However, even though “[These countries] have laws like our laws; they don’t have the rule of law; they don’t have the thin blue line,”  distinguishes Reyes. He concludes, “We are so blessed to live in America. The willingness to abide by and enforce the rule of law makes this country exceptional.”

Despite his many accomplishments and successes, Reyes never forgets his roots. As an Asian American, Reyes is extremely proud of his heritage. He claims that Asian American accomplishments and contributions are everywhere around us: “We have literally built America. Just look to the Chinese railroad workers or the 442nd Japanese battalion!” Nevertheless, he urges more Asian Americans to become community leaders in the government: “In many areas we are over-represented. However, we definitely need more APIs in government.” He finishes, “There is representation in so many administrations, but there needs to be more. More Elaine Chaos, more Nikki Haleys, and more Ajit Pais.”

To learn more about Reyes, visit his website at

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