SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said Wednesday he’s accepted a $600,000 settlement offer from the state to help pay his legal fees in the abandoned criminal case against him on bribery and other charges.
“It’s good to move on,” Shurtleff told the Deseret News.
He said the deal does not end his multimillion-dollar civil rights lawsuit in federal court against law enforcement officials he claims falsely charged and maliciously prosecuted him for public corruption in 2014.
Shurtleff said he knows there’s concern about taxpayers picking up the legal fees for both himself and his successor in the attorney general’s office, John Swallow. At a special session of the Utah Legislature last month, lawmakers approved a $1.5 million payment to Swallow.
“I’d just like to remind people that the people of Utah paid probably well over $10 million to prosecute me and Swallow, so it’s only appropriate, I think, that since the law provides for it, that we ought to have our pieces covered, or a portion,” Shurtleff said.
Because Swallow’s settlement exceeded $1 million, it needed the approval of the full Legislature. Members of the Legislative Management Committee, which has the authority to approve settlements of less than $1 million, are expected to consider Shurtleff’s deal at their Oct. 16 meeting.
“We will evaluate the proposal from the attorney general and determine what is in the best interest of the state and the taxpayers,” Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said Wednesday. The speaker has said the law that permits such settlements may need to be revisited.
He later said in a joint statement with Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, that Attorney General Sean Reyes’ office “negotiated a settlement for attorney fees associated with the charges filed against former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.
“We are aware Gov. Herbert has signed off on the negotiated settlement agreement. As required by statute, the Legislature will schedule a legislative management committee to review the settlement agreement and offer a recommendation.”
Reyes had no comment on the settlement, his spokesman, Richard Piatt, said.
Gov. Gary Herbert’s spokeswoman, Anna Lehnardt, said the governor has signed off on the agreement with Shurtleff, “but settlement agreements are confidential until they are made public, so that is all the comment we can provide at this time.”
Shurtleff, a Republican who served three terms as Utah’s attorney general, was facing five felonies — three counts of accepting gifts, one count of bribery to dismiss a criminal proceeding and one count of obstruction of justice — and two misdemeanors when prosecutors dropped the case against him in July 2016.
Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings cited several reasons for dismissing the case, including a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that “significantly narrowed the scope” of the federal bribery statute, and an inability to obtain key evidence from a federal investigation.
Swallow’s case went to trial the following year. He initially faced nine criminal charges, including bribery, evidence tampering, misuse of public money, obstruction of justice and falsifying a government record, but four charges were dropped during the trial and a jury found him not guilty on the remaining charges.
State prosecutors had alleged Shurtleff and Swallow were part of a conspiracy to extort money and favors, including a trip to a posh Newport Beach, California, resort from a wealthy businessman who had reached a plea deal with the attorney general’s office.
Both Shurtleff and Swallow were out of office when charges were filed in 2014. Swallow had been elected in 2012 and resigned less than a year into his term amid an investigation by the Utah Legislature that produced a report saying he had “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign” on his office door.
Shurtleff said Wednesday his effort to recover his legal costs from the state wasn’t as “open and shut” as Swallow’s, because he was not acquitted as Swallow was. He said the cost of defending himself added up to about $1 million, including $180,000 he’s already paid his attorneys from his state retirement fund.
“I get substantially less than what I ended up paying,” Shurtleff said.
Now a Salt Lake-based private attorney set to argue a case later this year before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, he said he’ll keep about $60,000 and use the rest of the settlement, $540,000, to pay off his remaining legal bills.
“I’m doing OK. I’m bounding back,” Shurtleff said.
After charges were dropped against him, Shurtleff cooperated with the prosecutor in his case, Rawlings, in an investigation of related allegations against former Sen. Harry Reid , D-Nev., that the Senate leader’s staff dismissed at the time as grandstanding by Rawlings.
Shurtleff said he initially saw the allegations as “conspiracy theory stuff,” but said, “With everything I’ve learned from Troy, it goes deeper than that. There was instruction to divert attention away from Harry Reid because I was the whistleblower, and to go after us.”
Rawlings said Shurtleff “cooperated significantly. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to care about the case that we had that implicated not just Sen. Reid, but others,” whom he declined to name.
He said his efforts stalled when the state declined to fund a grand jury to pursue it.
Shurtleff’s cooperation did not guarantee his legal fees would be paid by the state, Rawlings said.
“There was never a promise that Mark would get paid attorney’s fees by the state of Utah,” Rawlings said. “Whatever Mark and his attorneys have negotiated with the state of Utah is independent of me. They haven’t consulted with me about it. I haven’t been privy to those negotiations.”