Dropping Swallow complaints shows Utah State Bar needs retooling

The Utah Bar Association responded today to an op-ed last week by Better UTAH board member David Irvine and Russell Fericks, former co-chair of the Utah State Bar’s ethics committee.

In their earlier op-ed, Irvine and Fericks argued that the Bar’s lack of action on a Better UTAH bar complaint into former Attorney General John Swallow’s conduct–and Swallow’s subsequent resignation amidst a list of allegations that he engaged in corrupt and unethical behavior–suggests the Bar isn’t doing enough to police its own.

The Bar’s failure to address Swallow’s conduct as an attorney suggests that it has focused its attention too prominently on the second half of its mission — serving the legal profession — to the detriment of its first half — serving the public.

Curtis Jensen, Bar president, and Terrie McIntosh, chair of the Utah Supreme Court’s Ethics & Discipline Committee, responded to Irvine and Fericks in today’s Tribune. Their response was not encouraging.

Instead of owning up to their rather embarrassing failure to properly investigate John Swallow, the Utah State Bar instead decided to enumerate, without any contextual cues whatsoever, the process for investigating corrupt attorneys. It reads like an IKEA user manual–it’s supposed to be helpful, but in the end it just leaves you to your own devices.

Although Jensen and McIntosh ensure readers that “the legal profession recognizes the importance of ethics rules, and is committed to prosecuting ethical breaches by attorneys,” their lack of action in the John Swallow scandal suggests that the difference between recognizing the importance of ethics and acting ethically may be too great a divide for the Utah State Bar.

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