Utah State Bar drops case against Attorney General John Swallow

Published: Sunday, Oct. 13 2013 5:25 p.m. MDT

The Utah State Bar has closed one of its two investigations into the state's attorney general, declining to prosecute John Swallow on allegations of professional misconduct.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Bar has closed one of its two investigations into the state's attorney general, declining to prosecute John Swallow on allegations of professional misconduct, Swallow's office announced Sunday.

"I am grateful to the bar for its careful consideration of the allegations and for its reasoned analysis in closing the case,” Swallow said in a prepared statement. "Despite the early rush to judgment, it is now becoming clear that people with an agenda have made unsubstantiated allegations.

"I am happy to report the attorney general’s office is running well, and I am looking forward to the resolution of these unfounded complaints so I can continue to do the work I was elected to do by the people of this state," he said.

The case closed this week by the Utah State Bar was prompted by a complaint filed in January by the Alliance For a Better Utah. Maryann Martindale, the alliance's executive director, said the state bar's decision does little to exonerate Swallow from the allegations surrounding him.

"If you look at the scope and the breadth of all the things that Attorney General John Swallow is dealing with right now, that’s just one piece in a bigger, messier puzzle," Martindale said.

The Utah State Bar's decision to close its case follows the announcement last month that the U.S. Department of Justice Public Integrity Section had completed its investigation into Swallow's activities and would not seek an indictment.

Swallow continues to face separate investigations by a committee of the Utah House of Representatives, which as of last week had interviewed as many as 60 witnesses, the Salt Lake and Davis county attorneys' offices and the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office.

Much of the allegations against Swallow stem from his dealings with indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson, who claims Swallow helped arrange a payoff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to end a federal investigation into Johnson's company. Reid has denied any involvement.

Swallow also faces allegations of improper fundraising and deal-making from other businessmen, including Marc Jensen, who is currently serving a 10-year prison term for failing to pay $4.1 million in restitution from an earlier case.

Martindale said the state bar's letter does not dispel the allegations against Swallow, but instead finds the evidence against him insufficient for prosecution. She said she hoped the bar would conduct its own investigation into the allegations, rather than "sidestepping" until another investigating entity arrives at a conclusion.

"Our complaint was based on everything that was known in the public," Martindale said. "We felt it incumbent to file this, really on behalf of all the citizens of Utah."

She also took issue with Swallow's description of the allegations being an agenda-fueled attack on him and his office. The Alliance For a Better Utah's only goal is to establish ethical behavior among elected officials, Martindale said, and there is reason for concern regarding the attorney general when so many allegations have come out against him.

"Our agenda is ethics, good ethics, and that we should be able to expect better than this from our elected officials," she said. "I just don’t see this as an agenda anyone should have a problem with."

In the letter that accompanied the state bar's decision, a caveat is expressed that the case against Swallow could be reopened if the other investigating entities determine that criminal acts or ethical violations occurred.

On Sunday, Swallow said he and his office would continue to cooperate with investigators, including those from the Utah State Bar should his case be reopened.

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