SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's outgoing attorney general won't face civil penalties for his alleged campaign disclosure violations, the lieutenant governor announced Wednesday in saying John Swallow's resignation makes the legal process unnecessary.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said during a news conference that forwarding the case to a state judge would have likely taken six months and cost $200,000. He would have done that had Swallow not resigned, but said even if a judge agreed with the findings of the lieutenant governor's office report, the end result would be forcing Swallow out of office - something that has already happened.
Cox added that by the time the matter was resolved, an upcoming special election set for November 2014 would be nearing.
The decision by Cox to be done with the matter means the state will move forward with finding a replacement for Swallow by following state statute for when an office is vacated.
That process calls for the Utah Republican Party to select three candidates, which they plan to do on Dec. 14, and send them to Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, who will choose one. That person will hold office until November 2014 when a bipartisan special election will be held.
Democrats this week asked Cox to send the findings of the investigation to the courts in hopes a judge would invalidate the 2012 election, triggering a special election in June.
Cox said the Democrats' interpretation of state law is just wrong, noting the governor can't call a special election and that nowhere in state law does it allow for an election to be voided. He called Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis' reasoning "Jedi mind tricks."
"I've talked to no fewer than five attorneys, and none of them could go through the mental gymnastics that allow for this concept that John Swallow never existed or never came into office," said Cox, who just took office in October replacing Greg Bell, who resigned.
Dabakis said in a statement that the party stands by its legal argument, but added that they also support a proposal to select a caretaker to replace Swallow who would not run again next November for a full term.
That idea is being floated by Republican Sen. John Valentine, who was considered a candidate to replace Swallow but has opted not to seek that position. Valentine said the office needs somebody who can focus solely on turning around the culture of mistrust in the office, and not have to worry about a looming election. Though he said he's not trying to set the table for himself, Valentine said he would consider running for a full term as attorney general in the November 2014 election.
Utah Republican Party executive director Jeff Peterson declined comment on the idea.
After a four-month investigation, a law firm hired by the lieutenant governor's office concluded that Swallow deliberately concealed about a half dozen business interests and tens of thousands of dollars in income from his campaign disclosure forms leading up to the 2012 election. They also found he tried to influence a probe into the matter by altering witness statements and apparently destroying documents.
Those findings were released last Friday, less than 24 hours after Swallow announced his resignation, citing the toll of ongoing investigations. Cox said emphatically that his office made no deal with Swallow, but he did reveal for the first time that they let Swallow know the report would be coming out two days before he announced he was stepping down. Cox said Swallow wasn't aware what the conclusions were.
Cox said his office is troubled by the findings, which is why they plan to pass on the findings to a pair of Utah county attorneys and a House panel investigating separate allegations that Swallow arranged a bribery plot, traded offers of protection in return for favors from several businessmen and violated attorney-client privilege while in office.
The lieutenant governor's office handled the matter because it oversees elections.