SALT LAKE CITY — Their appearance was brief, but the buzz surrounding Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow's first court hearing as criminal defendants was huge Wednesday.
The two former Utah attorneys general, who face a combined total of 21 felony charges that include engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, receiving or soliciting a bribe, evidence tampering and making false statements, arrived at the courthouse amid a flurry of media attention.
Shurtleff, who is still on the mend with a foot injury, walked into court using crutches with his wife and daughter. Before arriving, his daughter, Annie, tweeted a picture of herself with her father while holding a sign reading, "#Justice."
Shurtleff also took to social media prior to arriving at the courthouse, tweeting a quote from Marcus Aurelius: "When facing trials say not, 'This is misfortune,' but 'To bear this worthily is good fortune.'" He also tweeted: "I shall not bear ill will toward anyone. I shall not submit to injustice from anyone. I shall conquer untruth by truth," from Mahatma Gandhi.
Walking into court, Shurtleff maintained his innocence and said he looks forward to his day in court.
"People believed in me and my 14 years of service. They believe in our family. They believe in justice. They're as anxious as we are for the truth to be told and it hasn't been told yet," he said.
Shurtleff would not comment about the evidence.
"I'm not going to do like the prosecution has for the last year and a half and run this thing through you guys and put it out in the press. The proper place for this is in the courtroom. And we're going to be very aggressive. We expect a speedy trial. We demand a speedy trial. We don't want delays on this. We want to get in there and challenge the evidence and challenge those who have made false claims against us and they'll have to take the stand and they'll have to tell the truth," Shurtleff said.
When asked if he would entertain a possible plea deal, Shurtleff said strongly, "No."
"There's no plea. What would I plead to? No, there's nothing to plead to. When I say these are frivolous, false charges, I absolutely mean it."
During the brief court hearing, Shurtleff and Swallow stood together at the stand, though both anticipate they will be filing motions soon to have their cases heard separately. They waived the reading of their charges and a scheduling hearing was set for Aug. 18 before 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills. Wednesday's hearing lasted about two minutes.
Outside the courtroom, as the media continued to swarm both men as they walked to the elevators, Shurtleff's attorney, Rick Van Wagoner announced that he has advised his client not to make any more statements to the media.
"Despite the fact that the Salt Lake (County) District Attorney's Office has done its best to convict Mark in the court of public opinion, he's innocent until proven otherwise. And he maintains his innocence. We are going to maintain our ethical obligation and not discuss trial strategy in the public or comment on the evidence in the public, contrary to what has occurred in the district attorney's office," he said.
Swallow kept his comments very limited while walking in and out of court, also noting that he had been advised by his attorney not to speak.
"We're looking forward to the process," he said as he walked out of the hearing. "Absolutely. Because the facts will show that I'm innocent of all the things they've said I've done."
Swallow's attorney, Stephen McCaughey, also left without comment.
The legal defense of Swallow and Shurtleff is expected to be expensive for both men. Shurtleff admitted that money is currently an issue for his family.
Swallow's campaign account is empty, according to his most recent filing with the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office in June. He had only $550 left at the end of the year, money used to pay for accounting services in January and March.
An earlier filing showed Swallow paid more than $217,000 to the law firm of his former attorney, Rod Snow, from his campaign account over the past year. State Elections Director Mark Thomas said money from a campaign account can be used for legal representation if it's related to a candidacy or holding office.
Swallow's use of campaign funds for his legal expenses has been questioned because of when he allegedly engaged in wrongdoing, Thomas said, but the office is not looking at the issue.
"Until we see something that raises more of a red flag, it's not something we're going to address," he said.
Salt Lake attorney Greg Skordas, who is not representing either defendant and has run in the past for Salt Lake County district attorney and Utah attorney general, said it is his understanding that campaign donations can be converted into personal income, as long as the appropriate taxes are paid.
Shurtleff's campaign account had a balance of nearly $62,400 at the end of 2013, his most recent financial disclosure. Any expenditures from that account will not have to be reported until next January, Thomas said.
Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche
Email: [email protected]