Utah House sets course for Swallow investigation

Published: Wednesday, July 17 2013 7:51 p.m. MDT

Christensen said a limit would be a "cautionary protection." With the cost of the investigation estimated at as much as $3 million, he said the committee shouldn't be given what amounts to a blank check.

"I don't think it's prudent," Christensen said, warning that lawyers hired for the committee would be in "a race against the clock" to see how fast they can bill the state.

But the sponsor of the bill, Dee, said the committee already is required to keep House leaders updated on expenses. The majority leader said it was important for the House to retain control of the committee's spending.

Other representatives raised concerns about closing any of the investigative committee's meetings. Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, said the public's business "ought to be done in the light of day."

Dee said lawmakers worked with representatives of the media to ensure they could support the bill. "There will always be those who are not happy with what we are doing," he said.

Investigation's scope

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, argued for lawmakers to define the scope of the investigation before starting the probe against Swallow, who faces federal, state and local investigations.

Ivory compared the ability of the state to investigate Swallow to using a bazooka to shoot a fly, urging lawmakers to hold hearings on what standards the attorney general should be held to before the investigation starts.

Swallow spokesman Paul Murphy had no comment on Wednesday's actions by the Legislature. The attorney general has said he will cooperate with the House investigation.

Snow said he's not sure whether the committee will run into difficulties, including getting witnesses to testify.

"The process is obviously very early. Its hard to anticipate at the outset all of the issues and obstacles that you're going to have to deal with," Snow said adding the committee we rely on the attorneys it intends to hire for the investigation.

"I think that it's going to be important that we get good advice and we approach it in a deliberative, careful way," he said.

Snow said neither he nor his law firm has any active cases involving the attorney general's office.

"I don't think there's anything that I'm aware of that would impeded my ability to go forward on the committee," he said.

One of the members of the committee, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, said despite Snow is newcomer to the political arena, "he got some good experience. I think he'll be respected as a chair and I think he'll be counted on to be fair."

More Swallow moves

Also Wednesday, the attorney general's office removed itself from the prosecution of Marc Session Jenson, a one-time multimillionaire who has accused Swallow and former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff of shaking him down during all-expenses paid trips to his posh southern California villa.

Jensen also accused Swallow of securing a "quid pro quo" agreement from him for a $1 million lot in the planned members-only resort development known as Mount Holly.

Earlier, Jensen's attorney, Marcus Mumford, asked a 3rd District judge to disqualify the attorney general's office.

"While there is no legal or factual basis to disqualify the office, the state acknowledges that the defendant's allegations have disrupted these proceedings and created at least the appearance of impropriety which cannot be overcome through other means," according to a motion the attorney general's office filed Wednesday.

The attorney general's office is talking to different county attorneys about taking over the prosecution, his spokesman, Murphy, said.

Mumford said although he's pleased the office intends to step aside, he's concerned that a new prosecutor might "simply carry the water" for it.

“The process of assigning a new prosecutor must be transparent to assure impartiality and to ensure justice is served," he said.

In another related matter, the lieutenant governor's office Wednesday did not name special counsel to investigate whether Swallow violated state election law. Chief deputy lieutenant governor Mark Thomas said the announcement would come later this week.

Below are the members of the Utah House investigative committee

Republicans Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, chairman House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork

Democrats House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna

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