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(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R. St. George, listens during a special session in the House of Representatives at the Utah State Capitol Wednesday July 17, 2013.
Nine lawmakers chosen in special session may decide Swallow’s fate
Utah House » Republicans hold 5-4 edge on panel as lawmakers OK rule changes for the inquiry.
First Published Jul 17 2013 03:47 pm • Last Updated Dec 07 2013 11:35 pm

The House committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow will include a former Utah State Bar president, a cop and House leaders from both parties.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, appointed the nine-member panel Wednesday, launching the unprecedented investigation that ultimately could pave the way for impeachment of the state’s top cop.

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The Utah Legislature agreed to pay $3 million to the owners of the Deep Creek Ranch to resolve a 16-year-old dispute over the State Armory Board’s purchase of 800 acres in Tooele County.

The Armory sought to exchange credits for surplus state and federal property for the land, but the federal government said it could not legally enter into such an agreement. The error resulted in 14 years of litigation as Deep Creek sought to resolve the issue.

The $3 million reflects some attorney fees, interest and a multiplier that includes any profit Deep Creek could have received for selling the surplus property. The money will come from the state’s rainy-day funds.

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Rep. V. Lowry Snow, a Republican from St. George in just his second year in the GOP-dominated House, will head the committee. Snow, an attorney and former president of the Utah State Bar, will exercise considerable authority over the issuance of subpoenas and the granting of immunity to potential witnesses.

"Representative Snow is a very competent and respected member of the body, albeit fairly new," Lockhart said. "I think you’d find universal admiration of his skill and demeanor. … I have great confidence in his ability."

The committee will have five Republicans and four Democrats, although Lockhart said she doesn’t anticipate partisan loyalties will be a major factor in the inquiry.

In addition to Snow, Republican Reps. Jim Dunnigan of Taylorsville, Mike McKell of Spanish Fork, Lee Perry of Perry, and House Majority Leader Brad Dee of Ogden will be on the panel. McKell is an attorney; Perry is a Utah Highway Patrol trooper.

The Democrats on the panel will be House Minority Leader Jennifer Seelig and Rebecca Chavez-Houck, both of Salt Lake City, along with Susan Duckworth of Magna and Lynn Hemingway of Holladay.

Snow said he suspected he might be tapped for the committee but "was taken aback" when Lockhart asked him to lead it.

"I appreciate her confidence," he said in an interview Wednesday night.

Snow hopes to have the committee’s first meeting within 10 days. He said it is too soon to tell how frequently the panel will meet or how long the investigation will take.

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"I really am committed to making certain that it is a fact-finding and that we don’t begin the process with any predetermined result," Snow said. "At the end of the day, I see our work as the submission of our report … and if, at that point, the position of the body is that those findings exonerate [Swallow], then I’m entirely fine with that."

Democrats had sought an eight-member panel with four from each party so there would not be a public perception that partisan politics might play a role in the outcome. Seelig said she believes the 5-4 split can still accomplish that.

"We are moving in the same direction related to the restoration of the public trust," she said.

Swallow, who is a Republican, is under investigation by federal, state and county officers. He faces a range of allegations, including accusations that he helped broker a bribe to a U.S. senator and received improper gifts.

In addition to unveiling the members of the committee, the Legislature met in special session Wednesday, passing a series of bills, giving subpoena authority and other powers to the special House committee.

The measures also empower the panel to meet behind closed doors to get legal advice, hold strategy meetings and to interview witnesses if public testimony might impede a criminal probe.

Dee said the changes to the law were necessary to ensure the House could investigate the claims effectively and stressed that when "a man’s character, his livelihood and his life" are at stake, it is imperative lawmakers have all the information possible.

The House committee is expected to spend several months and potentially as much as $3 million investigating a string of alleged misconduct involving Swallow.

Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, has steadfastly resisted launching a House investigation without clear limits on its scope and a defined standard for removing Swallow from office.

He said the House is subjecting the attorney general to "the full weight of the government investigating something when we haven’t defined its scope."

"No one is arguing for doing nothing," Ivory said, "but to define the standard and do it right, where accuracy is more important than speed, I think is prudent."

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