Ex-Utah A.G. John Swallow sues state for $1.5 million over fees he racked up defending himself in court

Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow listens during his trial at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.

The former Utah attorney general who last year was acquitted of all charges in one of the state’s biggest political scandals is now suing the state to reimburse him for legal fees involved in his defense.

John Swallow, who served as attorney general from January 2013 to December of that year, is suing for about $1.6 million, according to documents filed Tuesday in 3rd District Court.

Swallow was acquitted in March of nine charges related to alleged public corruption.

After his acquittal, Swallow asked Utah to reimburse him, citing a law that requires the state to do so if a public official is exonerated from charges filed in connection with activities that allegedly occurred while the official was in office.

The office of Utah’s current attorney general, Sean Reyes, declined, saying the law doesn’t apply if the state official isn’t working for the state when he or she is exonerated.

A May 2017 letter Solicitor General Tyler Green sent to Swallow’s attorneys laid out the state’s denial of Swallow’s reimbursement request and said that even if Swallow was eligible for reimbursement, the state didn’t have the money to give to him.

Green added that if Swallow wanted to continue with his claim, he’d need to contact the board of examiners.

“Because I was erroneously prosecuted, I was forced to borrow money to defend myself,” Swallow said in an email. “I spent the past nine months trying to work out a solution to get reimbursed so I can finish paying what I owe to my attorneys and others. Since the Attorney General refuses to abide by the statute allowing this reimbursement, I am forced to file a lawsuit.”

The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday evening.

Swallow and his predecessor, three-time Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, were arrested in July 2014 at the conclusion of a wide-ranging investigation into allegations the two accepted monetary bribes and favors. They were originally charged with a combined 23 counts in connection with the alleged corruption.

Federal and state authorities, and the Utah Legislature, had been looking into the accusations for years before charges were filed.

The former attorneys general maintained their assertions of innocence throughout court proceedings.

When the criminal case against Shurtleff was dismissed in July 2016, he asked the state to reimburse his $1.1 million in legal fees, citing the same law Swallow’s attorneys used.

Although 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck ruled last September that Utahns wouldn’t have to pay Shurtleff’s debts, he disagreed with the state’s interpretation that for it to reimburse legal fees, an exonerated public servant must still be working for the state.

At the time, Swallow told The Salt Lake Tribune that he hoped Reyes would revisit his decision to deny Swallow’s reimbursement request.

On Tuesday, Swallow said a news release that he’d worked long enough to resolve the case without a lawsuit and that litigation was his only option.

“I hoped to get the matter resolved through negotiations and had even offered a 10% discount if it were done quickly,” he said in the release, “however, to this point, no one has been willing to even discuss the case.”