Cost and public trust at stake if Swallowgate forces open records law changes

Salt Lake City – The Utah State Legislature will meet today to discuss amending open records laws as they pursue an investigation of embattled Attorney General John Swallow. The Alliance for a Better UTAH has released the following statement, urging caution on the part of legislators:

“The cost of the numerous Federal, State, criminal, civil, public and private investigations in what is now being called “Swallowgate” is impossible to predict. Better UTAH Board Member David Irvine recently opined in the Salt Lake Tribune that the costs of these investigations to the taxpayers might easily top $6,000,000. But Swallowgate already carries another, intangible cost – the loss of public confidence – a cost that could be exacerbated if the Utah Legislature inadvertently curtails Utah’s open records laws in the Legislature’s effort to carry on its own investigation of Swallow.

“At the end of the day, John Swallow is a public figure, and his actions while working for the State should be scrutinized in public view. He has repeatedly refused to resign, insisting that he has done nothing wrong. If Swallow is right, and he has nothing to hide, then amending open records laws is likely unnecessary except to the extent of privacy concerns ordinarily recognized in the context of criminal and civil investigations.

“In the event that changes to open records laws are deemed to be necessary, we encourage caution on the part of legislators and urge the Legislature to consider how similar matters are handled by Congress and in other state legislatures undertaking investigative roles. Any amendments should be narrowly drafted and should call for narrow interpretation. In addition, the Legislature should consider whether sunset provisions are appropriate, causing any adopted changes to automatically expire at the close of these investigations. Above all, the legislature should avoid any amendments that could inadvertently narrow current open records law, thereby further exacerbating the public’s loss of trust in government and government officials.”

The Alliance for a Better UTAH has previously filed a complaint against Swallow with the Utah Bar Association asking the Bar to investigate potential violations of the Utah Code of Professional Conduct. A similar complaint was later filed by Traci Gundersen, former head of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection.

[A copy of Better UTAH’s complaint filed with the Bar Association can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/121804577/AG-Swallow-Bar-Complaint]

Better UTAH board member, Crystal Young-Otterstrom, and Executive Director, Maryann Martindale also filed a complaint with the Lt. Governor’s office alleging various violations of State election law. The Lt. Governor’s office is expected to imminently name special counsel for this investigation.

[A copy of that complaint can be found here: https://betterutah.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Verified_Petition.pdf]

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Alliance for a Better Utah |  801.557.1532   | www.betterutah.org
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The Alliance for a Better UTAH is a year-round, multi-issue education and advocacy organization providing resources, commentary, and action on important public policy matters.

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