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Paul Rolly: FBI, D.A. probing alleged forgery at Utah Legislature

Published May 31, 2013 7:58 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This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated.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.

The Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office and the FBI are investigating an alleged forged signature of a Utah Supreme Court justice that has been traced to a computer at the Utah House of Representatives.

The investigation began after the Utah Attorney General's Office filed a motion with the Supreme Court on July 20 that Justice Christine Durham be recused from hearing arguments to determine whether an initiative petition for a legislative ethics law could appear on the ballot because she had electronically signed the petition.

Five days after the A.G.'s motion, Durham filed a sworn affidavit stating she did not sign the petition, which included her name, date of birth and address.

The IT specialist for Utahns for Ethical Government (UEG), the sponsor of the petition drive, then traced the packet and electronic signature number to a computer at the state Capitol. Further investigation, after the District Attorney's Office got involved, identified the computer as one at the House of Representatives.

The signature was posted March 4, 2010, at 10:03 a.m. while the Legislature was in session. At the time, lawmakers were considering their own ethics bill as an alternative to the more stringent law sought by the initiative petition.

The Supreme Court was hearing two issues at the time of the alleged forgery: How long UEG had to gather signatures before the petition deadline and whether electronic signatures were valid.

UEG attorney David Irvine said Durham was viewed as sympathetic to the electronic signatures argument because she had written an earlier opinion that validated electronic signatures for a third-party gubernatorial candidate's attempt to qualify for the ballot.

The Attorney General's Office, when it filed the motion to recuse Durham, found her electronic signature among more than 10,000 electronic signatures that had been turned into the Utah Lieutenant Governor's Office.

The Supreme Court, in late 2012, eventually ruled that the earlier deadline for gathering the signatures that had been argued by the A.G.'s office was the one that applied, so UEG failed to get the number of signatures required.

Numerous members of the Legislature had been critical of the initiative petition and the ethics law that it proposed. They branded the effort as a partisan effort to embarrass Republicans.

The Legislature passed a law in the midst of the petition drive that changed the required number of signatures from 10 percent of voters in the previous gubernatorial election to 10 percent of voters in the presidential race. That was a higher number and more difficult to achieve.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill confirmed that his office, along with the Salt Lake City Police Department and the FBI, are conducting a criminal investigation in the matter.

Evidence is still being gathered to determine who had access to that computer on the House floor at the time of the alleged forgery.

When the A.G. made the motion to recuse Durham in July, the motion and all related documents, including Durham's affidavit that she did not sign the petition, were under seal because of a preliminary injunction imposed by the U.S. District Court for Utah prohibiting the disclosure of any name appearing on the initiative petitions.

The federal court lifted that injunction on April 8 and the Supreme Court granted a motion from UEG to unseal the Durham-related documents on Wednesday.

prolly@sltrib.com