A judge Tuesday handed Mark Shurtleff some good news and some bad news.
Bad news (from his point of view) first: Taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the $1.1 million legal bill racked up as the ex-Utah attorney general defended himself against criminal public corruption charges.
The good (also from his viewpoint): Shurtleff still has a breach of contract argument and can continue to sue the state.
“At the end of the day, it’s good news, the case survives,” Shurtleff said of 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck’s ruling. “I’ll get my day in court, so to speak.”
“It‘s just going to cost the state more.”
— Mark Shurtleff
The Utah attorney general’s office indicated it wished the lawsuit had been dismissed, but did not elaborate.
"We're obviously disappointed that he didn't agree with all of our arguments,” said spokesman Dan Burton, ”but we don't have any comment beyond that.”
A three-time attorney general, Shurtleff was charged in 2014 with bribery, corruption and other charges stemming from his time in office.
The criminal case was dismissed in July 2016 after three court motions — two from Shurtleff’s defense team and one from the prosecutor, Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who had been tapped by the state to handle the case.
Had the judge overseeing the case granted either of Shurtleff’s motions, the state would be paying his bill, Lubeck wrote in the nine-page decision released Tuesday. But the court instead granted Rawlings’ motion and, under state law, Shurtleff can’t get paid.
Lubeck says he ”sees no compelling reason to second guess that [judge]. ... The restitution statute is unavailable to Shurtleff in this instance.”
Shurtleff sued the state in March on the fees issue after months of failed negotiations with the state.
The second part of Lubeck’s ruling will let Shurtleff pursue his argument that Rawlings dismissed the case only at the direction of current Attorney General Sean Reyes and that doing so was a violation of a cooperation agreement between Shurtleff and Rawlings.
Under the agreement, Shurtleff would provide information about individuals, including former Utah Attorney General John Swallow, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Ward, all of whom Rawlings was investigating as part of a wider public corruption probe.
In return, court papers say, Rawlings would agree not to oppose a defense motion to dismiss the Shurtleff case.
“Whether [Shurtleff] ever provided evidence to the state is unknown, but it is not necessary for the court to know that at this juncture,” Lubeck wrote. “Viewed in the light most favorable to Shurtleff, these allegations are enough to support his contract-based claims and they survive this motion to dismiss.”
Rawlings declined to comment on Shurtleff’s lawsuit Tuesday, but in court papers he cited the cooperation agreement as one of the grounds on which he was seeking dismissal of the criminal case. The judge in that earlier case also cited the agreement when she issued the ruling that tossed the charges.
Reyes’ office denied any wrongdoing in a March news release issued after Shurtleff’s lawsuit was filed and said he spoke to Rawlings only after the prosecutor filed his motion to dismiss.
“Similarly, any accusations of an ethics breach based on alleged directives from the [attorney general’s office] are equally false and unfounded,” the release states.
Shurtleff said he wasn’t entirely surprised with the split decision from Lubeck and that he always believed the breach-of-contract issue provided a stronger argument for reimbursement.
The bill for taxpayers, however, would likely only get bigger, should he prevail. A jury could award the former attorney general additional legal fees and damages.
“It’s just going to cost the state more,” Shurtleff said. “I would love to talk settlement if they are willing.”