SALT LAKE CITY — A jury of five women and seven men will hear the public corruption case against former Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
Jurors for the trial were winnowed down from a pool of 205 potential picks after filling out a lengthy questionnaire last month designed to pare down the list to a smaller number.
At the request of Swallow's lawyers, 3rd District Judge Elizabeth Hruby-Mills has not made the questionnaire used to identify potential jurors public, though she said it would be released at some point.
When alternate jurors are announced at the end of the trial, which is scheduled to last 16 days, eight people will be left to ultimately decide whether Swallow committed 13 crimes, including racketeering, bribery and money laundering.
If convicted, Swallow could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty and has called the charges politically motivated.
The jury pool ranged widely in age, showing up dressed in everything from professional attire to cowboy boots to a T-shirt and beanie. Of the nearly 120 prospective jurors who reported to the courthouse Tuesday, 45 were interviewed by attorneys before final selections were made, according to a court spokesman.
As jury selection was ongoing Tuesday, a cart carrying more than a dozen bins and boxes full of evidence was wheeled into the courtroom, along with large display boards to be presented after argument gets underway.
Several passers-by inside the courthouse asked about the trial and even checked the locked door to try to go in and observe.
"It's John Swallow," one man told another as they passed the courtroom on their way down the hall. "The John Swallow case is in there."
But as jury selection began in one of the highest-profile criminal case in years, courtroom doors were closed to the public and the media with no direction given about how the process would be carried out.
In response to an objection from the Deseret News and other reporters seeking access to the proceedings, Hruby-Mills said individual voir dire questioning was being conducted privately Tuesday as questions of health and family situations were addressed. The process was closed, she said, so as to not have a "chilling effect" on people "trying to do their civic duty."
Under a 1984 Supreme Court ruling of U.S. v. Press Enterprise, questioning of prospective jurors is to be open to the public, with closure acceptable only when sensitive personal information is discussed. The decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2010. Questioning of potential jurors regarding sensitive personal information may legally be closed.
First Amendment attorney Jeff Hunt, who wrote to the judge on behalf of the Deseret News, said Tuesday that the public has a right to observe jury selection, which is a critical component of the legal process.
"This is a trial of enormous public interest and the public has a right to observe the entire legal proceeding, including jury selection," Hunt said. "The reason we have public jury selection is so that the public has confidence in the process and in the result of the trial itself."
As the trial begins, federal statistics show Utah has had a low level of political corruption the past dozen years.
BYU political science professor Adam Brown analyzed the Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section annual reports on the number of federal, state or local officials (whether elected or appointed) convicted of malfeasance in office. Because more populous states tend to have more elected officials, he used convictions per capita rather than total convictions.
The results posted online at Utah Data Points show Utah averaged 1.4 convictions per million residents from 2002 through 2015, ranking it sixth lowest in the nation. Only Oregon, New Hampshire, Minnesota, South Carolina and Washington did better. Louisiana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Kentucky were the worst.
Brown's analysis came with a couple of caveats. The DOJ's statistics only count convictions in federal court, not state court. Swallow is being tried in state court.
"For that to shuffle these rankings, though, you have to persuade me that the feds are systematically less likely to bring charges in federal court in Utah than elsewhere," Brown wrote.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Salt Lake City recused itself from an investigation into the former Republican attorney general. The case went to the Public Integrity Section, but it declined to file criminal charges. State and federal investigators, however, continued to work on the case leading to the charges Swallow now faces.
Brown also noted that the statistics only count the number of convictions with no consideration of the impact of an official's malfeasance.
"If Swallow really did what he's accused of doing, then the scale of his corruption goes far beyond most abuse of office," he wrote.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers will put more than 120 witnesses on the stand to testify, including possibly ex-Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who figures heavily in the case whether or not he appears in court.
Shurtleff and Swallow were initially charged as co-defendants, but the cases were later separated. Shurtleff's case was transferred to the jurisdiction of Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who dropped the charges last summer, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that makes it more difficult to prosecute public officials for bribery, an inability to get key evidence from the federal investigation and concerns about whether Shurtleff could get a fair trial in the well-publicized case.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill oversees the Swallow case. He said Tuesday that prosecutors' goal during the trial will be to narrow the complicated timeline and its many players into simple pieces for jurors.
"Our focus right now is on Mr. Swallow and the allegations we have made at this time," Gill said. "We are trying to break this down into its most elemental parts rather than the complexity, because you can get distracted by that."
Swallow is charged with pattern of unlawful activity, accepting a gift, three counts of receiving or soliciting a bribe, money laundering and making false statements, all second-degree felonies. He also faces three counts of evidence tampering, misuse of public money and obstruction of justice, all third-degree felonies, and one misdemeanor charge of falsifying a government record.
Contributing: Ladd Egan