SALT LAKE CITY -- A House committee looking into allegations against embattled Attorney General John Swallow has put the investigative wheels in motion, with formal action Wednesday to empower a special team of lawyers and investigators to begin their probe.
Members of the nine-person special panel voted to authorize a set of six lawyers, including Steven Reich of Akin Grump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, to appear before the committee and also empowered investigators to begin the detailed work of collecting evidence.
The vote was the only formal action taken in the committee's second meeting, which lasted less than an hour.
A large part of the meeting was devoted to Reich and discussion of how he would move the investigation forward. Lead investigator Jim Mintz, of the Mintz Group of New York City, was also present at the meeting, but he offered little input on how he would move forward.
Reich, a Columbia Law School graduate who was part of the legal team that investigated charges against former President Bill Clinton, laid out a game plan for committee members on how they would proceed. He said common sense and the facts will dictate how and where the probe may go.
"No one size fits all for how to do an investigation. The needs of the investigation will dictate the way to go about it," Reich said.
The lead attorney said his menu of options includes obtaining documents from public sources, coordinating with other agencies investigating charges against Swallow and deciding on what evidence can be presented in a public setting to the committee.
Committee Chairman Jim Dunnigan also took time during the meeting to openly solicit information from people who may have information about the AG and some of the charges against him.
John Fellows, general counsel for the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, said work on the investigation is already under way.
He said his staff pulled together information on charges against Swallow, established a timeline, and put together a list of potential witnesses for Reich and the legal time to consider.
There are six separate investigations ongoing involving the AG and allegations raised against him, which range from extortion and bribery to potential violations of state election law.
The committee is not expected to meet again for weeks but Dunnigan said the legal team and investigators will be in contact with him at least every two weeks to establish a reference point for work to be done.
Officials have suggested it could be the end of the year before the committee is ready to hear witnesses in public.
In the meantime, financial details of the arrangement between Reich and investigators have been made public. Reich will be paid $740 an hour. His assistant, Steven Ross, will make $664 an hour, and the state will be billed anywhere from $292 to $624 an hour for the work of other federal prosecutors. Early stages of the investigation will be done by junior attorneys and paralegals within the state, who make as little as $116 an hour. The state will also cover travel expenses, hotels and meals for the New York and Washington-based attorneys as they address the local matter.
The investigation is expected to cost somewhere in the range of $3 million, before it is completed.
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, winces at discussion of how much the investigation may cost but insists the committee cut a great deal in hiring Reich. He said the attorney could have charged bigger hourly fees, if it were in a bigger city. Reich's rate of $740 an hour is a 20 percent discount from his standard rate.
Dunnigan said state lawmakers will open some office space for the legal team in the Capitol, but suggested the lawyers may be in and out of the state during the process of the fact-finding probe.
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Washington Terrace, also is uncomfortable at discussion of how much the Swallow probe may cost, but insists the House is doing the right thing in moving the probe forward. He described the team of professionals hired as the most competent set of attorneys to handle the matter in the United States.
"The laborious process is done. It's time to get to work," Dee said of the investigation.