State appoints law firm to investigate Utah Attorney General John Swallow

Published: Tuesday, July 23 2013 10:50 a.m. MDT

Utah Attorney General John Swallow speaks out Jan. 14, 2013, in his office at the state Capitol about allegations that he was involved in improper deals. In new documents, Swallow says a petition alleging he violated state election laws is politically motivated and without merit.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Phoenix-based law firm will work as special counsel to investigate alleged election law violations against Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

The state elections office Tuesday hired Snell & Wilmer, a 75-year-old regional law firm with offices in the Western United States and Mexico, to head the investigation. The firm has 50 attorneys in its Salt Lake City office.

“We are confident Snell & Wilmer will conduct a thorough and professional investigation into the alleged violations,” said Mark Thomas, state elections director.

The law firm beat out 13 others that bid for the job. The state elections office scored each one that met the minimum requirements for experience, qualifications and cost. Snell & Wilmer received the highest overall score, Thomas said.

Snell & Wilmer's work will begin immediately after it signs a contract with the state. The investigation, to which the firm will assign as many as 10 lawyers, is anticipated to take four months and cost $200,000, Thomas said.

The elections office chose the firm partly due to its experience with election law, estate and trust planning and white collar crime, he said.

Snell & Wilmer referred requests for comment to Thomas.

The Alliance for a Better Utah filed a complaint against Swallow in January, alleging 12 violations of state election law. The elections office dismissed nine counts but said three call for further investigation.

Two of those counts allege Swallow failed to disclose that he was an owner or manager of a consulting firm called P Solutions and a family trust named SSV Management, and that he received $8,500 from P Solutions through another firm, RMR Consulting. The third alleges he made false and misleading statements about his financial condition on campaign disclosure forms.

Thomas said the investigation will focus on those three counts, but investigators are free to look at the other nine counts and any other issues that might arise.

"It's kind of all on the table at this point," he said.

Swallow's estate planning attorney formed P Solutions as a subsidiary of a blind family trust and limited liability company, SSV Management, he had set up for Swallow's family, according to his response to the elections complaint.

Swallow never received income or payment for services from P Solutions, nor was he compensated directly by RMR, according to his attorneys. Disbursements from P Solutions were made to Swallow's wife, Suzanne.

Though delays in hiring the special counsel has frustrated Better Utah, the alliance said it's pleased the firm has been appointed. It called on the firm to fully examine Swallow's election-related activities.

"We believe that the only way to restore the public trust in the attorney general's office is to ensure that these investigations are independent, in depth and beyond reproach," according to a statement.

Swallow's office had no comment Tuesday. He has called the elections complaint without merit and politically motivated.

This is the lieutenant governor's first experience with appointing special counsel.

State lawmakers rushed to change a law on the last day of the legislative session this year that required alleged election code violations to be referred to the attorney general for investigation. The revision allows the lieutenant governor's office to appoint special counsel.

At the end of its investigation, Snell & Wilmer will make a recommendation to the elections office. Swallow will be allowed to respond to the report and the matter could ultimately go to court for a final decision.

Swallow faces being removed from office if he is found in violation of state elections law. His attorneys, however, dispute that, arguing the Utah Constitution provides only for removal through impeachment conducted by the Legislature.

Utah House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, appointed a nine-member special investigative committee to gather facts about various allegations leveled at Swallow. It will submit a report of its findings but not make recommendations about impeachment.

Email: romboy@deseretnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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