Editorial: Stink over attorney general's office just gets worse
Attorney general's office poisoned
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes, the best advice your lawyer can give you is to sit down, shut up and cut it out.

Yet nearly every day's edition of The Salt Lake Tribune brings another story about how Mark Shurtleff, thrice elected attorney general of Utah, and his hand-picked successor, John Swallow, just can't say no.

Not to a friend. Not to a campaign contributor. Not to someone who gives them rides in private jets and expensive sports cars and picks up the tab for stays in luxury hotels. Not to those who want help parsing the law to make questionable business plans appear legal. Not to anyone who trades, or seeks to trade, on their friendship with the attorney general to settle business disputes or to dodge criminal investigations.

Recent revelations, which require a lot of open records requests and other forms of journalistic drilling, outline how Shurtleff and Swallow bent themselves into all kinds of contortions to avoid telling campaign boosters that their plan to process proceeds from online poker operations are as illegal as all heck in Utah. Shurtleff is brazen enough to compare the contacts to a request from an LDS Relief Society chapter.

Another tale outlines how a freelance fixer by the name of Tim Lawson — though never, thankfully, on the public payroll — invoked Shurtleff's name on numerous, often profane, occasions to convince the enemies of his friends to back off their lawsuits or investigations.

Lawson's activities were so worrisome, even to the top civil servants in the A.G.'s office, that they referred the matter for two investigations. A long email from Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings made it clear that the questions are serious enough to demand a real investigation, thorough enough to either clear Shurtleff or charge him.

Even if it is never proven that either Shurtleff or Swallow did anything that constitutes a violation of state or federal law, or even the ethical canons of the legal profession, the political stink that hovers over the attorney general's office is going to take a long time to clear.

The Utah public's faith that the search for justice is the primary goal of their attorney general has been seriously tested, if not irreparably shattered. That not only damages the reputations of those top elected officials, it also makes it much more difficult for the professional attorneys on their staff, even those who are utterly blameless, to do the people's work every day.

Swallow should resign. He and Shurtleff have done serious harm, not just to a government office, but to the establishment of justice in Utah.