Swallow Investigation Gets Underway

And they’re off!  Like a herd of turtles.

The nine-member Utah House special investigatory committee looking into alleged wrongdoing by GOP Attorney General John Swallow met for the first time Tuesday afternoon.


But they may not meet in public again for a month and may not start calling witnesses until November or December.

For many Capitol Hill-watchers, that is not the kind of start desired.

But, said committee chair Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville,

“This is a process. We must be thorough and fair, and to do that will take time.”

And a lot of money, as the Legislature’s General Counsel John Fellows warned.

Some of the big-hitting law firm partners now in the running to be selected as the committee’s “special counsel” charge upwards of $1,000 an hour, said Fellows.

Legislative committee staff attorneys will work hard to minimize the cost, which could run towards $3 million, especially if the committee is sued and must defend itself in court.

“I was hoping we could wrap this up by Labor Day,” said Dunnigan, only to be told by Fellows before the hour-long meeting Tuesday“that’s not going to happen.”

Dunnigan, an insurance agency owner, asked the public and press to be patient, as the committee met for the first time to be briefed on how it will operate.

Friday, a special selection group – which includes several committee members — will decide which of the 10 law firm finalists (all of which are from out of town, but sent representatives out to be interviewed face-to-face) will be chosen as special counsel.

Then a contract must be written up, agreed to and signed.

Then, if the firm doesn’t have an adequate private investigator, an RFP for such an investigator must be written up, advertised and acted on – all before even the gathering of evidence can formally begin.

Fellows said that it may appear to the public that little is being done this summer – but in fact investigators will be working diligently behind the scenes, reviewing electronic and paper evidence, informally interviewing witnesses.

Fellows – who officially is the main attorney overseeing the investigation – and legislative staff (seven in all) and the special counsel’s staff will be drawing up witness lists, developing questions and such.

Only then will public hearings be held by the special committee and testimony taken.

“This is going to cost money,” said Fellows. “No two ways about it.”

The Connecticut Legislature spent more than $3 million over an impeachment of its governor recently.

Much of that cost came because the governor sued the Legislature at every turn.

Swallow has said publicly that he plans to fully cooperate with the special House committee; in fact looks forward to using the committee to clear his name.

AG office spokesman Paul Murphy told UtahPolicy Tuesday that Swallow still plans to do just that.

Murphy said he has no knowledge, and doesn’t believe, that Swallow or his private attorney will sue the Utah Legislature over the special committee’s work.

“If we are sued,” said Fellows, the cost to taxpayers “will escalate quickly.”

The RFP for the special counsel says that every two weeks the outside attorney must tell Fellows how much work he estimates his associates will bill for the next two weeks, said Fellows.

If it is more than expected, the special counsel must get approval of Fellows to spend the extra cash.

In addition, Fellows says it’s his intention to tell the special nine-member committee every time it meets how much has been spent by the special counsel.

“Utah is know for being frugal, I hope we will” be in this investigation, as well, said Fellows.

“This is a month’s long process,” said Dunnigan, “not a week’s long process. We are not going to meet twice a week” as a committee at the start.

“As we get going, our workload will be heavier. We are not the investigators, we hire them, we guide them.”

It is still not clear whether the committee’s investigation will be finished before the 2014 Legislature convenes for its 45-day general session the end of January.

As has been stressed before, the special committee is not an impeachment committee.

In fact, through a new rule and law recently adopted, the committee can’t make a recommendation on whether Swallow should be impeached.

It will only delve into the “facts” about a number of allegations against Swallow made in media reports. (Swallow denies them all, and points out that his accusers are either convicted liars or under current criminal investigation.)

The committee will make a report to the House. Then Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, will decide whether to poll members to see if the required two-thirds wish to start impeachment hearings against Swallow.

However, when the Legislature is in session January through early March, any House member can file a resolution calling for a formal impeachment to start.

Should it get two-thirds, then formal impeachment proceedings will start.

So, there will be pressure for the nine-member committee to finish its work before the 2014 general session, for then Swallow’s investigation may be taken out of the committee’s hands.