Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff: No Apology for Sam Antar!

Yesterday I wrote a letter to Mark Shurtleff, Utah’s Attorney General, urging him to issue a public apology to Sam Antar. Last week, Mr. Shurtleff wrote a letter to Overstock.com (which Overstock and Patrick Byrne later attached to a press release). That letter was defamatory and embarrassing for Sam, and Shurtleff should not have written it.

While Mr. Attorney General did offer me the courtesy of a response to my letter, he says he will not apologize for the original letter he wrote.

Another individual wrote to Mr. Shurtleff, and he responded directly to her email and copied me in:

Dear Ms. xxxxxxxx,

Thank you for your inquiry. I was not aware they had issued a press release but when I sent them my letter I authorized it’s dissemination. It would not have been necessary had Mr. Antar allowed my comments to be posted on his blog.

I have no interest in getting involved in a private dispute. However, I will not allow anyone to improperly use me or my office to bolster their side of a private matter. We invited Mr. Antar to speak because we believed we could learn from his criminal expolits. He was asked not to use that invitation in any way in his dispute with Overstock or Byrne. I would not have taken exception had Mr. Antar noted his appearance at our conference in a blog entry seperate and apart from his attacks on Overstock. When my effort to clarify by posting a comment was rejected by Mr. Antar, I felt a letter was appropriate.

Sincerely,

Mark Shurtleff

I responded:

With all due respect, why did you not contact Mr. Antar directly before issuing such a letter?

He says the comments were never received on the blog, and I believe him. Prior to issuing such an inflammatory and distorted letter, did he not deserve the courtesy of a direct contact from you via telephone and/or email?

I am quite confident that if you had contacted Sam, he would have worked with you to resolved this issue to your satisfaction. I’m not sure why you chose to try to embarrass him in the way, with a complete mischaracterization of his comments about your conference, but it reflects poorly on you and your staff.

Will you be issuing an apology to him?

Tracy Coenen

Shurtleff replied:

Why are you writing to me instead of Mr. Antar? When I posted my comments I received the following notice: “Your comment has been saved and will be visable after blog owner approval.” Why didn’t Mr. Antar contact me and discuss it? There is nothing untrue or inacuurate in my letter. Therefore no apology is necessary. Thank you for your interest.

I countered:

What a classy way to handle this. Sam did not receive those blog comments. Do you not consider the fact that technology is imperfect?

Why would you not contact him directly – via email or telephone – as all other professionals conduct business? Was Sam invited to speak at your conference via a comment on his blog? Or was he contacted directly?

Your characterization of Sam’s blog post is inaccurate, and you know it. You could save face by issuing an apology and acknowledging that this was a misunderstanding. Sam would have been (and probably still would be) open to resolving this issue with you personally. He did not use this speaking engagement to promote his agenda. He merely used it as context for his presence in Utah.

I urge you to reconsider issuing an apology. You have an opportunity to right your wrong, and encourage you to do the right thing.

As expected, Shurtleff did not reply to this email.

I have several concerns:

  1. Shurtleff is the chief law enforcement officer of Utah. He involved himself in the dispute between Patrick Byrne (a campaign contributor of his) and Sam Antar. Even though he disclaims wanting to be involved in a “private matter,” he injects himself squarely into it. Is this appropriate for a law enforcement official to do when Patrick Byrne and Overstock.com are being investigated by the SEC?
  2. Prior to issuing this letter to Overstock, Shurtleff or someone from his office could have contacted Sam directly. Instead, Shurtleff left a comment on Sam’s blog. Even if Sam had received notice of the comment in a timely fashion, would he have been able to verify the authenticity of it?
  3. When Sam was invited to give a gratis presentation (not even being reimbursed for travel costs), was it done with a blog comment? Or was it done via a direct communication over the phone or in an email? Why didn’t Shurtleff contact Sam directly in regard to this matter? If a direct contact was good enough for the invitation to speak, it is surely good enough to resolve a blog issue.
  4. Had Shurtleff or someone from his office contacted Sam directly, I am confident that Sam would have worked with them to resolve the matter immediately. There was no need to handle it this way.

It should also be noted that while Shurtleff tries to paint Sam’s presentation in a negative light, other personnel in his office (specifically Chief Deputy Attorney General Kirk Torgensen) were apparently quite pleased with the presentation.

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Comments (4)

  • Scipio

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    “However, I will not allow anyone to improperly use me or my office to bolster their side of a private matter.”

    Except, of course, if it is contained in an Overstock press release. Did he type that with a straight face?

    Reply

  • Scipio

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    Hey I wonder if Overstock got the letter via a comment left on ASM. No? That’s the blog I would love to see his comment on.

    Reply

  • Jon M. Taylor, Ph.D., Consumer Awareness Institute

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    Why does this behavior of Mark Shurtleff not surprise me? Mr. Shurtleff was instrumental in weakening Utah’s Pyramid Scheme Act by testifying in favor of a bill modifying the act in 2006. He said SB182 protected against the “really bad” pyramid schemes – those without products (Wrong. Research clearly shows that product-based schemes are the most harmful by any measure). What he did not disclose was that his lead contributors were MLM companies and that he his campaign had received $50,000 from PrePaid Legal, which has been convicted of being a pyramid scheme in at least one legal action. Money (ala political contributions) corrupts.

    Jon Taylor

    Reply

  • wayne

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    And yet both endorsed School Vouchers, their Overstock was welcome to pay millions to get the AG’s, behind closed doors, agenda.

    Reply

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