The following is the transcript from this week’s Better UTAH Beat that aired on January 15, 2013.
It has only been a week since John Swallow was sworn in as Utah’s new Attorney General, but he’s already facing calls for his resignation.
Editorial boards of not one but two major newspapers, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Provo Daily Herald, have both called for his resignation and for an independent investigation.
It started this past weekend as Swallow appeared in the news for allegations that he was helping disgraced businessman Jeremy Johnson escape federal prosecution.
Jeremy Johnson has been accused of running a 350 million dollar online-software scheme. Johnson has claimed that Swallow set up a lobbying deal in which Johnson could pay 600,000 dollars to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in order to keep federal investigators from prosecuting Johnson’s case. Swallow does not dispute the meeting or the exchanges of money, only the substance of the discussion and the claims made.
As the Salt Lake Tribune stated, “Swallow has been unable to deny all of it. And what remains — with incriminating emails and a secret meeting at an Orem donut shop — casts a debilitating shadow over the ability of the state’s new chief law enforcement officer to do his job.”
The details may be complicated, but at issue is whether or not Swallow, as the state’s leading law enforcement officer, is beyond reproach in Utah’s most recent scandal.
The Democratic Party has launched a petition, calling on US Attorney General Holder to investigate. Holly Richardson, conservative blogger and former state legislator, has also called for an independent, non-partisan investigation of the allegations. Even Swallow, himself, no doubt seeing that a federal investigation was imminent and hoping to appease those calling for his immediate resignation, sent a letter to Utah’s US Attorney, David Barlow, asking him to investigate.
We at the Alliance for a Better UTAH agree with these calls for an independent investigation, but we’re also sensitive to the particular ethical concerns of the case, independently of whether or not Swallow’s actions were illegal. That’s why we’re calling for the Utah Bar Association to launch an investigation to determine if any ethical lapses occurred in John Swallow’s dealings with Jeremy Johnson in respect to two concerns.
First, the Utah Bar Association is particularly well-positioned to address questions regarding whether or not Swallow has impinged his ethical responsibilities as a lawyer in his relationship with Johnson. The Utah Bar Association could determine whether or not Swallow unethically prioritized the interests of one client, Johnson, over the interests of the other 2.8 million Utahns Swallow represents as his clients as the state’s leading litigator.
Secondly, Swallow’s apparent moonlighting as a consultant while employed fully by the state of Utah may constitute a conflict of interest that would prevent Swallow from impartially applying the rule of law. As the state’s top law enforcement officer, public confidence in our legal system requires that everyday citizens trust that the rule of law will be applied impartially and without prejudice. Additionally, the question of whether or not Swallow’s actions runs against the Utah Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct by engaging in activity that is at odds with his agreement to not advocate for actions that go against the interest of his clients–in this case, the 2.8 million Utahns that he represents.
The authority to address these concerns of course lies not only with the Utah Bar Association, but with federal investigators, as well. We hope, however, that the Utah Bar Association will pay particular attention to the ethical lapses Swallow has allegedly engaged in and whether or not those lapses constitute a violation of the professional code of conduct.
This isn’t Swallow’s first brush with scandal either. Last summer while still a candidate for the office of Attorney General, he had a similar conversation with another donor facing legal issues. This particular call was recorded and Swallow could be heard to state his intentions, if elected, to move the Consumer Protection Division under his authority–a move that would give him oversight of the division charged with protecting the public from the schemes this particular donor was being accused of. It showed the willingness of Swallow to use his position in the Attorney General’s office to influence the outcome of a legal investigation for the benefit of a donor. Yet, as so often happens, the claims were swept under the rug and Swallow was swept into office.
This latest story is now making national headlines. The Associated Press has begun following the story, and the online political news journal Talking Points Memo has also published an in-depth investigation into the allegations. We may not make the national headlines often, but when we do it is far too often for the wrong reasons. Utahns deserve better. We deserve an Attorney General that is beyond reproach. As the highest legal authority in the state, the office should operate without the taint of inside deals and preferential treatment.
A full and thorough investigation of ethically-challenged officials, like John Swallow, is crucial for Utahns to move forward with any sense of confidence in those we have entrusted to lead and in the offices they hold.