Utah A.G.'s office eager to get back to normal
John Swallow said he could see it on the faces of his staffers: The scandal was draining not only him, but also them.
These lawyers, who have continued to file cases and fight lawsuits and churn out work day after day in the face of an ongoing scandal engulfing their boss and mounting pressure in the office, looked tired and worn.
"We have the best and brightest, the hardest-working people with the most integrity that I can't possibly describe or imagine working in the attorney general's office," said Swallow, recalling a meeting the week before his Thursday resignation announcement. "The last couple months ... they have been strained to the limit."
Swallow said he hoped his departure would help return things to normal at work, where nearly 11 months of drooping office morale and increasing anxiety have taken a toll.
But workers in the office said the resignation may have little impact on the most-affected attorneys if a months-long fact-finding investigation by the Utah House continues.
"There's a working group that was put together to respond to legislative inquiries, some of whom have spent literally hundreds of hours, aside from their own duties, putting together GRAMA [Government Records Access and Management Act] responses and reviewing requests," said division chief Craig Barlow, who is a member of the group.
"That wasn't really their job before this investigation. They all did it voluntarily, and they do it very well, but they're stressed. It's not easy."
Swallow, who will officially bow out on Dec. 3 at 12:01 a.m., will be temporarily replaced by the office's general counsel, retired Gen. Brian Tarbet, until Gov. Gary Herbert acting on Republican Party recommendations names a successor in mid-December.
Tarbet, who declined to speak with reporters after his appointment as interim attorney general, issued a statement in which he pledged to "provide a steadying hand for the office."
According to staffers, life at the attorney general's office has been increasingly unpleasant for months well before the Utah House investigation began issuing subpoenas and interviewing witnesses due to the scandal-induced fear and embarrassment that pervaded the place.
Still, the work got done.
"Everybody's doing their job," said Kirk Torgensen, chief deputy attorney general on the criminal side. "And throughout the transition, it's going to be all hands on deck."
Upon Swallow's resignation, spokesman Paul Murphy said, several employees contacted the embattled attorney general, thanking him for being "thoughtful" and stepping down.
"John has heard from many of our attorneys today," Murphy said. "They've told him how much they appreciate what he's done."
The race to replace
The jockeying to replace Attorney General John Swallow started even before he announced his resignation, and the field of candidates is likely to be crowded.
The Republican State Central Committee is scheduled to meet Dec. 14 to narrow the field, sending the names of three choices to Gov. Gary Herbert, who will pick one to serve as attorney general until a new one is elected in November 2014 and sworn in come January 2015.
The field is expected to include Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem; Sean Reyes, whom Swallow topped in a Republican primary last year; and Bret Rawson, an attorney who represents the Fraternal Order of Police and jailed businessman Mark Sessions Jenson, a key player in the Swallow scandal.
Others mentioned as possible candidates include state Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove; assistant attorney general Wade Faraway, state Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, and Morgan Philpot, a former state representative and congressional and gubernatorial candidate.
Democrats have said they may go to court to challenge the Republicans' right to pick Swallow's replacement. They say if Swallow violated campaign laws as alleged the election should be invalidated and the GOP should not have dibs on selecting his successor. Instead, they argue, there should be a special election.
"This is a critical issue," Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said. "We risk an appointment tainted by corruption."