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Special prosecutor needed

Published May 18, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

Based on reporting by the local newspapers, it is clear that the time has come to appoint a team of special prosecutors to investigate the conduct of former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, his hand-picked successor, John Swallow, and senior officials in the Attorney General's Office.

Shurtleff and Swallow have benefited from large campaign contributions ($30,000 to $165,000) from individuals or organizations facing serious legal difficulties. Both are accused of soliciting protection money from multiple individuals.

In addition, there are too many instances where both Shurtleff and Swallow consorted with people they should have steered clear of, given the position of trust they held or sought.

Because of the cloud hanging over the Attorney General's Office and the critical importance of maintaining the public's confidence, a team of special prosecutors is necessary to investigate the activities of both men as well as the office's senior staff members.

Ideally, the governor and Legislature would jointly find a way to appoint a prosecution team consisting of Republican Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings and Salt Lake County Attorney Sim Gill, a Democrat. The special counsel announced by Lt. Gov. Greg Bell is too limited in scope to cover the full range of issues and individuals that need to be investigated, and if appropriate, prosecuted.

These special prosecutors would be granted full investigative authority and the appropriate financial and human resources required to carry out their mission. They would also be authorized to bring charges and to prosecute anyone found to be violating the law. Once appointed, they would be isolated from political interference.

Should the investigation result in Swallow's removal, the replacement would have to be a person of impeccable character with a distinguished legal career and, ideally, a person who has never been active in politics.

In addition, an interim attorney general would not be a member of either of the two major political parties.

That would exclude Bell and state Sen. John Valentine, who have been put forth as possible replacements.

Once appointed, an interim, independent attorney general would serve through the end of Swallow's term in 2016 and agree in writing not to run for the office afterword. If an interim election were necessary, both major parties could agree to allow the appointee to run without opposition.

The interim attorney general's mission would be to rebuild the office, replace a partisan culture of corruption with a culture of impartial enforcement of the laws, and to restore confidence and respect for the person and the office.

Although this is not the normal way of replacing an attorney general, it can be done if the political will exists to truly clean up the office and to hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions. This has the added advantage of giving the Legislature time to review how best to choose the attorney general — by direct election, appointment by the governor or Legislature, or some other method.

Some may say that the existing system should work this out. However, this is not a normal situation.

Extraordinary measures are needed to ferret out the truth, hold individuals accountable, and to restore confidence in the attorney general and the AG's office.

Ronald Mortensen is a retired Foreign Service officer.