The arrests of former Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff this week mark the end of a sad chapter in Utah’s history. Now a new chapter is about to begin, one that I suspect will become an even bigger public spectacle as criminal cases proceed. While I am personally satisfied that criminal charges have been brought against Swallow and Shurleff, I fully endorse their constitutionally guaranteed rights to due process under the law. Like anyone else, they deserve their day in court and a presumption of innocence before a jury of their peers. I have confidence that our judicial system will sort things out and that justice, regardless of the ultimate verdict, will be served.
If there is a silver lining to the Swallow and Shurtleff sagas, it is that Utah, its press, its leaders and its people, have acquitted themselves well throughout this unfortunate and unsavory process.
First, kudos must go to the Utah press corps. I am convinced that without the dogged determination of our traditional and non-traditional press outlets to uncover and report the facts, Swallow would still be in office, crooked businessmen would still be seeking special favors from the AG and the public would still be completely in the dark. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe.” By breaking and staying on this story, Utah’s local press corps have helped keep our government institutions safe, providing a tremendous public service. They deserve our continued patronage and support.
Second, kudos must go to those elected leaders who pressed forward with their investigations into Swallow and Shurtleff. I tip my hat to Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill and Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings for refusing to accept the federal Department of Justice’s inexplicable decision to wrap up its Swallow investigation in the summer of 2013. Gill and Rawlings took control of the situation and, working closely with local FBI and Utah Department of Public Safety officers, uncovered sufficient evidence to warrant multiple criminal charges against both Swallow and Shurtleff.
I commend the Utah House of Representatives for its thorough investigation of Swallow’s behavior in the AG’s office. Speaker Becky Lockhart, who recognized the need for a separate House investigation and persuaded her colleagues to proceed, and Rep. Jim Dunnigan, who expertly led the bipartisan House Special Investigative Committee, deserve particular recognition. The House’s comprehensive investigation greatly assisted Gill and Rawlings in their criminal probe into Swallow’s activities.
I applaud Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox’s investigation into Swallow’s campaign finance improprieties. Cox’s well-reasoned and carefully researched report, finding five violations of elections laws, led directly to Swallow’s resignation from office last November.
Finally, kudos must go to the people of Utah who have been exceptionally engaged in the Swallow and Shurtleff sagas. Utahns have powerfully and unequivocally insisted that leaders of our public institutions, particularly our law enforcement apparatus, must be beyond reproach. Last summer, a poll conducted by Brigham Young University found that 78 percent of Utahns thought Swallow should resign as attorney general, with 72 percent supporting formal impeachment proceedings. This unprecedented public outcry gave Utah leaders the mandate they needed to spend the time and money required to thoroughly investigate improprieties in the Attorney General’s Office.
While I agree with Gov. Gary Herbert’s comment that the arrests of Swallow and Shurtleff are a “black eye for our state,” I believe we can hold our heads high that our collective response to these scandals demonstrates our unwavering commitment to preserve, protect and defend the integrity of our public institutions. This is more than just a silver lining, but a hallmark of self-determination: that a people can and will hold their leaders accountable for their actions.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and U.S. Senate candidate.
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