Legislators okay $1.5 million settlement with former Attorney General John Swallow

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While not happy about it, Utah legislators gave former GOP Attorney General John Swallow $1.5 million in attorney fees/settlement in a Monday night special session.

The Executive Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the deal Monday evening, with lawmakers meeting at 6 p.m. in special session to adopt the settlement and pass changes to the state’s new medical marijuana law.

David Wolf, of the current AG’s office, told the EAC, made up of elected party leaders in both the House and Senate, that Swallow originally wanted attorneys’ fees “north of $2 million,” plus around $400,000 in other reimbursements.

So, looking at even larger fees being awarded by a judge down the road, Wolf said he considers the $1.5 million a reasonable settlement, especially since Swallow won’t be able to sue the state or any state employee with this agreement.

The Legislature’s own attorney and Gov. Gary Herbert’s legal advisor also recommended the Legislature settle with Swallow.

Under Utah law, any legal settlement over $1 million must be approved by the Legislature.

Swallow and his predecessor, former AG Mark Shurtleff, were charged with multiple felonies several years ago.

Swallow resigned his seat after about 11 months in office, after an investigation by the Utah Elections Office found that he had falsely filed campaign finance documents.

At the same time, the Utah House was conducting an investigation into Swallow’s activates, both when he worked as an aide to Shurtleff and during his own AG race — with an eye toward impeachment.

The House published their investigation after Swallow left office, part of which said that Swallow had basically hung a “For Sale sign” on the AG’s door. The House couldn’t, and didn’t, file any criminal charges.

Part of the disagreement over fees, said Wolf, is that Swallow’s criminal attorney, Scott Williams, didn’t keep hourly work sheets for much of his work, having a general fee agreement with Swallow.

Also, before he was charged, Swallow had hired attorney Rod Snow to work for him during the House’s investigation.

Wolf said Utah law talks about attorney fees paid for criminal defense, and the Snow work came before Swallow was charged by two county attorneys.

However, the lawyers hired by Swallow to get his attorneys’ fees paid by the state, said Wolf, — Snow, Christensen & Martineau– said the work by Rod Snow was used by Williams in the criminal defense, and so should be reimbursed.

In any case, it is unclear if Swallow, who paid more than $700,000 in early attorney fees, will be “made whole,” said Wolf. It’s unlikely he will be, said Wolf.

How much Swallow ultimately pays his attorneys is up to Swallow and his lawyers, said Wolf.

Shurtleff is suing the state, and several state investigators, over his charges, which were dismissed before he ever went to trial.

Under the agreement approved by the state Monday, Swallow gives up any civil suits that he, too, could file in the future against the state or any of its employees.

House Democratic Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, a trial attorney, said he’s unhappy with the current law that apparently allowed Swallow, in hiring attorneys to pursue the claim, can then have their own fees paid by the state.

An incentive, if you will, to pursue state taxpayers, said King.

He said he and other legislators may pursue a change in the law to make it clear that the state will NOT pay for the fees of attorneys hired by a former state official to get his trial attorney fees.

Swallows’ attorneys’ charges to get his fees were in the range of $400 to $500 an hour — perhaps the most expensive fees of all his various attorneys.

“I have real heartburn in paying” for the attorneys who are suing the state over the former official’s criminal attorney fees, said King.