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Ex-Attorney General John Swallow says Utah will pay him a $1.5M settlement

But final agreement has not yet been signed

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John Swallow

Former Utah Attorney General John Swallow says Utah will pay him a $1.5 million settlement. He sued the state to recover his legal costs after he was acquitted of public corruption charges.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers are apparently set to approve a $1.5 million payment to former Utah Attorney John Swallow, who sued the state to recover his legal costs after being acquitted of corruption charges.

“I see this day as an exclamation point on my innocence,” Swallow told the Deseret News Friday. “Because I was cleared by the jury, I was cleared on ethics by the state bar, which polices ethics on lawyers, and now I’ve had the state write me a $1.5 million check to cover my expenses for defending myself against bogus charges.”

Swallow issued a news release about the settlement that he said will be considered during the Sept. 16 special session of the Utah Legislature called Thursday by Gov. Gary Herbert. An agenda item for the special session refers only to “legislative approval of and appropriations for the settlement of lawsuits against the state.”

The governor’s office referred questions about the settlement to Swallow’s successor, Attorney General Sean Reyes.

“After a jury acquitted John Swallow, he sued the state for his attorney fees as Utah law allows,” Reyes spokesman Rich Piatt said in a statement. “The parties have agreed to settle his claim for $1.5 million in exchange for dismissal of all claims with prejudice, which ends this case. Mr. Swallow’s attorney fees will be taken from this amount.”

The final settlement agreement has not yet been signed, Swallow said.

“We’re still negotiating some of that. But what we are firm on is the amount. We’re also firm on the fact that in a special session coming up this month, it will be approved by the Legislature,” he said. “Those are the only details I can really give you at this point.”

He said the case has been settled but the language of the release in the settlement has not be finalized.

“What the state is going to ask me to do is release claims in return for the settlement. That’s how settlements work,” Swallow said, Without that, he added, “I could sue them again and they wouldn’t want that. We certainly would not intend to do that, but we certainly want to come to an agreement on the language.”

Swallow said he still has a “window of time to decide about whether I will bring any other actions. At this point in time, I don’t have current plans to do that. But that door has not been closed. And it may or may not be closed in the terms that we come to.”

State prosecutors had alleged Swallow, along with former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, was part of a conspiracy to extort money and favors from a wealthy businessman who had reached a plea deal with the attorney general’s office.

Swallow 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 2017 trial and a jury found him not guilty on the remaining charges.

A Republican, he had resigned as attorney general in 2013, after serving just 11 months amid an investigation by the Utah Legislature. A special House committee issued a report the following March saying Swallow “hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign” on his office door.

“Life is full of ironies,” Swallow said Friday of the settlement going before the Legislature. He said he believes the lawmakers investigating him were given information “they reasonably relied upon. I don’t think the Legislature is at fault for what they did.”

But he did accuse his successor, Reyes, of having “drug this out for 2 1/2-years. We finally got it done. That’s another irony.”

In his news release, Swallow called the settlement payment “largely symbolic. Our family could never be fairly compensated for the cost and loss of these past years. The impact on our lives and reputation of the utterly false allegations, and the reaction to allegations made against me, my service and my character, including claims that I would or even could personally profit by selling out my office, are immeasurable.”

Swallow said he never lost his license to practice law and is an attorney in Sandy. He said he is writing a book based on his experience to help others deal with false allegations.

“I’m trying to tell people and teach people that if what happened to me as an innocent man can happen to a sitting attorney general ... who out there is safe from a false accusation that could destroy a career, destroy a family or a marriage?”