State Democrats: Officials should void AG election

 Investigation found AG failed to disclose thousands in campaign donations

By Brady McCombs
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Democratic Party is urging state officials to ask a judge to void the 2012 election of the state’s outgoing attorney general and hold a bipartisan special election in June to fill the office.

Republican attorney general John Swallow announced his resignation last week, citing the toll of ongoing investigations. The next day, the Utah lieutenant governor’s office released a scathing report that found Swallow deliberately withheld information from his campaign documents.

The current plan is for Republican Gov. Gary Herbert to choose from among three GOP-picked candidates to fill the office. That person would serve until a special election in November 2014. Those steps follow state law for when the attorney general’s office is vacated.

Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis said Tuesday at a news conference that the party has sent a letter formally asking Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to get a legal opinion on whether Swallow can resign from an office he may not have legally had a right to hold.

“John Swallow, it is our contention, cheated in his filing forms and he was disqualified from the election — not from office,” said Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis Tuesday at a news conference.

Utah Republican Party executive director Jeff Peterson said his party still plans to select three candidates on Dec. 14, unless a court order is issued before then.

“They can talk about all that, but it’s all just speculation at this point,” Peterson said.

Anyone occupying the attorney general’s office needs to be a lawyer who is at least 25 years old and in good standing with the Utah State Bar. So far, there are three people who have formally put their names in for consideration for the position: Sean Reyes, who lost to Swallow in last year’s primary election; Bret Rawson, a police officer who serves as general counsel for the state’s police union; and Brent Ward, a former U.S. Attorney in Utah and currently a federal prosecutor.

Democratic Party attorney Joe Hatch acknowledged his recommended course of action is a moot point unless a judge rules that Swallow’s campaign disclosure violations merit voiding the election. That’s why they are urging Cox to forward the issue to a state judge, under the belief a judge will agree with their assessment.

“With what Mr. Swallow has done, his election is void,” Hatch said. “It did not occur.”

After a four-month investigation, a law firm hired by the lieutenant governor’s office concluded that Swallow deliberately concealed about a half dozen business interests and tens of thousands of dollars in income from his campaign disclosure forms leading up to the 2012 election. They also found he tried to influence a probe into the matter by altering witness statements and apparently destroying documents.

Cox is reviewing the report as he decides what action to take next, including pursuing civil penalties. Under state elections law, Cox could forward the issue to a state judge. The judge could impose several penalties, including declaring Swallow’s election void and removing him from office.

When Swallow announced his resignation last Thursday, he vigorously denied breaking any laws and instead cited the strain the “perfect storm” of allegations has put on his family. He has not responded to the findings of the lieutenant governor’s office report.

Allegations of bribery, misconduct and shady dealings gnawed at the 51-year-old Republican during his short tenure in office. He is still being investigated by two county attorneys and the Utah House.