Sunday, October 13, 2019

Swallowing a bitter pill

During the September 16, 2019 Special Session of the Utah Legislature, we lawmakers were asked to vote for a bill approving the John Swallow settlement, as well as approve a funding request of $1.5 million in reimbursement of legal fees to our mendacious former Attorney General. I deeply disliked both bills and very much wanted to vote no. But as is so often the case, the issue was complicated, and impossible to explain in a 10-second sound bite.

Many years ago, the state legislature passed a law that allows for individuals embroiled in legal action with the state to recoup costs for attorneys' fees as long as certain criteria were met. In passing it, the legislature could never have envisioned the specter of someone like John Swallow or his atrocious behavior, but that legal history created a clear statutory guideline that was fully exploited by our state's disgraced AG. Because the case against Swallow did not lead to a guilty verdict, Swallow does, by the very clear definition of the law, have a right to legal financial redress for the costs of his attorneys' fees. We can hate it (we do), we can say it isn't right or fair (it's not), and we can refuse to pay them (we didn't). The fact is, our own courts ruled that he has the right to reimbursement, and they did it citing our own state law.

The settlement requires that Swallow may not seek to reopen any action against the state, which is good news. It cost us a lot of money, but it was money that, had we refused to settle and continued in legal battle, our state would have ultimately paid anyway. In fact, the risk of a payout even bigger than $1.5 million was very real, and Utah would have no grounds to compel John Swallow from suing the state for other damages related to the case.

I never wanted to vote to hand John Swallow any victory, but it was the right thing to do. Our legislative attorneys stressed the importance of approving this settlement - Utah has no legal ground to refuse payment of his fees. If we had fought the issue on principal, even with right on our side, we still would have lost.

It is a travesty that following this settlement, John Swallow continues to crow about his "exoneration" and "innocence." It is, of course, a fallacy. John Swallow is as dishonest and deceitful as they come. At the end of the day, our system failed to convict him. If I could have made one amendment to the settlement, it would have been to include a condition that he would never be able make statements about his own innocence in the case against him... it would have been lovely to include such a gag rule.

I could have voted no on this bill as a protest against John Swallow, and a no-vote would not have changed the outcome. But I believed that approving this settlement, however distasteful, was the right thing to do.