MATT GADE, Deseret News
Utah Attorney General John Swallow announces his resignation during a press conference at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013.

The resignation of Utah Attorney General John Swallow ends a tumultuous chapter in Utah’s public life, and it comes as both a welcome relief and an opportunity to restore the public’s trust.

It has been clear for quite some time that the embattled politician no longer had the confidence of the citizenry necessary to perform his duties effectively. That’s why it’s unfortunate that it took the threat of prosecution before Swallow stepped down, even though he insists that was not the reason.

For the better part of a year, Utahns have seen and read stories about alleged wrongdoing involving Swallow. These have involved meetings, tape recorded conversations, allegations of improper relationships, gifts and campaign law violations. Swallow has vigorously denied these. Now he says his defense against them has sapped his resources and made it impossible for him to continue.

True or not, the allegations have made it difficult for the attorney general’s office to conduct business. Swallow’s resignation allows the office to move forward with a clean slate. That will help restore the public confidence necessary to the ensure respect for the rule of law.

The attorney general needs more than just legal authority to be effective. That particular office requires a degree of moral authority that holds the officeholder to a higher standard than can be found in a strict interpretation of the letter of the law.

In his resignation press conference, Swallow insisted his decision had nothing to do with the findings of the investigations underway into whether he broke the law. He also repeatedly insisted that he was “an innocent man” and that his behavior has always been “100 percent ethical.” Federal investigations into his behavior ended in no findings of wrongdoing.

Regardless, his ability to perform the duties of attorney general had clearly been compromised. We hope for Swallow’s sake, as well as for the sake of Utah residents who deserve closure in this matter, that the legal process continues, ultimately rendering a verdict that settles these questions. Any time the results of a popular election are overturned, it is a serious matter. Utah voters deserve answers and accountability from the accusers as well as the accused.

Gov. Gary Herbert now has the responsibility to appoint Swallow’s successor. Whoever that person is, it is essential that he or she be beyond reproach. There has been too much damage done to the state’s reputation to allow for even the hint of scandal in the attorney general’s office going forward. If there is one lesson to be learned from this disappointing episode, it is that public figures need to earn the trust of the people they serve.