The news that two men who used to be Utah attorneys general were arrested and charged with almost 25 counts of legal violations, including bribery, wasn’t the most welcome news for the state, or for lawyers in Salt Lake City either. According to this Associated Press articlein Salt Lake’s local ABC online news source, Governor Gary Herbert spoke of the arrest, saying, “This is a sad day for Utah,” and calling it “a black eye for our state.” John Swallow, the Utah AG from for only 11 months before resigning from his post due to allegations of scandal, and Mark Shurtleff, serving for 12 years before stepping down, also due to publicity around allegations of corruption, will stand trial before state prosecutors in the coming months.
The accusations of corruption, center on the Utah attorneys general accepting everything from gold coins and cash, to stays in “swanky resorts” and “other luxury gifts” in exchange for bending the rules “at the highest level of state law enforcement.” Gov. Herbert was not exaggerating when he denounced the Utah attorneys general behavior and commented on the implications their cases will have on public trust in the government. But it’s not just the reputations of fellow politicians that suffer in these high profile cases: lawyers in Salt Lake City also get a bad rap by association.
Investigations into their bad behavior have led to “probes by the U.S. Department of Justice, Utah elections officials and the state bar.” Regardless of how the criminal charges play out, the state bar will likely sanction their right to practice law, and lawyers in Salt Lake City like R. Tee Spjute say that anytime attorneys behave badly, it reflects poorly on the profession as a whole. Politicians, government officials and to some extent lawyers too—anyone who holds a position of relative power and is then seen abusing that power – diminishes trust and undermines others ability to practice (whether policy or law) effectively.
Interestingly, these former Utah attorneys general are playing dumb. Shurtleff spoke about “errors in judgment” during his tenure, and attempted to reassure the public that whatever mistakes were made, he has “never intentionally committed any violation of the ethics.” This statement in spite of evidence of “accepting at least $50,000 in cash or campaign contributions from people who faced or expected to face scrutiny from the attorney general’s office.” One of their contributors had been charged with fraud by the Utah AG.
Attorneys like Spjute, and other lawyers in Salt Lake City shake their head when they hear about investigations by Utah lawmakers that “concluded Swallow destroyed and fabricated records and hung a veritable ‘for sale’ sign on the door of the attorney general’s office.” His response? “Any missing records were deleted unintentionally.”
It’s unclear how these accusations and charges will play out in court, and initial court appearances haven’t been set. Both Swallow and Shurtleff are maintaining innocence, and in some twisted way—who can blame them for just wanting to play with the big boys? Million-dollar houseboats and luxury jets sound pretty great. Except maybe to those of us with some professional integrity.