Utah taxpayers will be paying the lead lawyer in the House investigation of Attorney General John Swallow $740 an hour, with a dozen other lawyers available as part of the team.
Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, chairman of the House investigative committee, said that, based on early estimates, he expects the probe will end up costing roughly the $3 million that had been forecast.
"It’s about what was expected," Dunnigan said, "if you hire the caliber of people with the experience and ability necessary to do this task."
A selection committee picked the team from the firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld last month to serve as special counsel for the Swallow probe, which could pave the way for impeachment hearings.
Steven Reich —a former associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department who worked on President Bill Clinton’s impeachment defense and oversaw the investigation that led to the resignation of Connecticut Gov. John Rowland — will lead the team.
The state has agreed to pay Reich $740 an hour, a 20 percent discount from his standard rate.
His assistant, Steven Ross, who was the general counsel to the U.S. House, will make $664 an hour, with other attorneys, including former federal prosecutors, making $292 to $624 an hour.
Dunnigan said that the bulk of the work, especially in the early stages, will be done by junior attorneys and paralegals, who make as little as $116 an hour.
"Tasks that can be done by others at a lower billable rate are being done," he said. "I have told them we are very cognizant of the cost and use of taxpayer dollars. I think they get that."
In addition, the state will cover travel expenses, hotels and meals for the lawyers based in New York, Washington and elsewhere.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who resisted efforts to launch the House investigation into Swallow, still worries about the almost-limitless authority and scope of the inquiry.
"To write a blank check for an open-ended investigation really seems to defy what I understand the Supreme Court — our Utah Supreme Court — has said repeatedly on what is the standard for impeachment."
Swallow’s attorneys have argued that their client cannot be impeached for actions before he was sworn into the office in January, citing a Utah high court case involving a mayor.
Ivory said he would like to get a better idea of whether Swallow’s attorneys are right and, if they are, that would limit the investigation and lower the price tag.
"I don’t buy that we can have this open-ended, zero-government-restriction investigation into whatever we want with the full power of the government against anyone we want with the power of impeachment," Ivory said. "That doesn’t sound like the limited government Utah stands for."
Several pages of the Akin Gump bid, outlining a strategy for conducting the probe, were withheld by the House.
In addition, the New York-based Mintz Group and Salt Lake City-based Lindquist & Associates were selected to provide investigative services for the counsel. Mintz was the investigator with Reich on the Rowland investigation.
The hourly rates for those services are being negotiated.
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