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Shurtleff's sad exit

Published January 4, 2013 1:01 am

A.G. becomes what he once opposed
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In 2009, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was laying plans to oust a Washington insider who, arguably, was far too cozy with America's big banks.

Today, he is one.

The attorney general's apparent turn to the Dark Side is all the more troubling because then-Sen. Bob Bennett, the object of Shurtleff's short-lived challenge, was only one of scores of members of Congress whose votes were necessary to bail out the big banks in the meltdown of 2008. And because that distasteful bailout was indeed necessary.

But Shurtleff had the sole and unreviewable power to seriously undermine one of the best chances out there to bring to heel one of the greatest malefactors of the very mortgage meltdown that made the bailout necessary. And, with the twitch of a pen, he sold out the people of Utah by doing exactly that.

Once party to a lawsuit that was pushing Bank of America and its subsidiaries to obey the consumer protections found in Utah law, Shurtleff the other day did a huge favor for that same giant bank, agreeing to a settlement that could let BofA off the hook for much of its alleged wrongdoing in Utah.

Shurtleff abandoned the 2010 Senate race for legitimate family reasons, watching as Bennett lost his quest for re-nomination in a contest that eventually elected Republican Sen. Mike Lee. Shurtleff declined to seek re-election as attorney general, and his term ends Monday. He will then join the international law firm Troutman Sanders LLP, which boasts Bank of America as one of its most prestigious clients.

This is not a case of a former lawmaker who trades on his knowledge and networks to profit as a Washington lobbyist — which Bennett has since done.

This is a case of a sitting executive branch official acting against the advice of his own staff and blind-siding the private attorneys with whom he had made common cause in a way that, no matter what protestations Shurtleff might make against allegations of cause and effect, flat stinks.

Shurtleff's signature on the proposed settlement does not end the case. Private attorneys will continue to argue that Utah's more pro-consumer law should rule in Bank of America foreclosures in the Beehive State. But, without Shurtleff on their side, their chance for victory is greatly diminished.

By federal law, Bennett had to wait two years after leaving office to start making money as a real face-time lobbyist. The fact that Utah does not have a similar cooling-off period is what allowed Shurtleff to do a giant favor for a future client while still on this side of the revolving door.

Be careful what you ask for, as you may get it. Be careful what you oppose, for you may become it.