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After nearly nine months of getting paid an estimated $100,000 not to come to work, Kirk Torgensen, the former No. 2 in the Utah attorney general's office, was fired Friday six days before Christmas.
"As of today, Kirk Torgensen is no longer employed with the attorney general's office," said spokeswoman Missy Larsen, although she declined to comment on the reason ultimately given for his termination.
Attorney General Sean Reyes demoted Torgensen and put him on paid administrative leave April 9, pending an investigation into what involvement, if any, he had with the problems that plagued the office under former Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow.
He remained on leave until Friday, collecting a paycheck while Reyes and his staff grappled with if, or how, to let him go. In the meantime, based on state salary records, Torgensen appears to have been paid about $100,000 to not do any work for the state.
"We are disappointed with the decision of the attorney general's office," said Torgensen's attorney, Brett Tolman, "and are saddened that Mr. Torgensen has been terminated without process, without cause, in our opinion, and right now we're just reviewing what options we have."
It is unclear if Reyes fired Torgensen for cause. Before becoming chief deputy attorney general under Shurtleff, which is a political appointment, Torgensen had spent years working for the state, a career position. Political appointees can be fired without cause; career employees need a substantiated reason to be terminated.
Larsen would not comment on what Torgensen's status was at the time of his dismissal. Torgensen would have been eligible for retirement in August.
If he was a career employee, he can appeal the dismissal to the Career Service Review Office and seek reinstatement.
Beyond that, Tolman contends that Torgensen qualifies for whistleblower protection because he went to law enforcement with concerns about Shurtleff's interaction with Tim Lawson, a Shurtleff friend who has been charged with six felonies related to his trading on his relationship with Shurtleff.
"He qualifies as a whistleblower; I've always felt that way," Tolman said. "He's the only one who stood up or tried to stand up to Shurtleff when he was doing some things. He was one of the first in the door with the FBI cooperating."
In 2012, Torgensen and other top deputies without Shurtleff's knowledge contacted the Department of Public Safety and asked them to investigate Lawson's role in the office. The investigator, Scott Nesbitt, reported back that there were grounds for criminal charges against Lawson and Shurtleff. The case was referred to Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings.
When multiple felony counts were filed in July 2014 against Shurtleff and Swallow, DPS commissioner Keith Squires said that initial Nesbitt investigation ultimately led to the charges filed against Lawson and the two former attorneys general.
Other emails and text messages uncovered during an internal inquiry requested by Reyes document how Torgensen challenged Shurtleff on trips he took at the expense of businessman Marc Sessions Jenson, who then was free on a plea deal Shurtleff helped negotiate that left Jenson under the direct supervision of the attorney general's office.
The same report, however, found that Torgensen had his secretary delete a series of emails from his work computer in 2012. Torgensen said they were flirtatious emails that he didn't want his wife to find and not anything related in any way to the scandal enveloping Shurtleff and Swallow.
The state auditor questioned Torgensen's documentation for use of a state car. And a search warrant, filed by Nesbitt, alleged that Torgensen refused to turn over a cellphone to investigators who ultimately had to physically wrest it from his hands.
Jeff Herring, former director of human resources for the state, said it's difficult to say if the circumstances around Torgensen's paid leave are unusual.
"I don't think anything about this whole situation has been normal, so I wouldn't say it's abnormal, given the circumstances," Herring said. "With other employees, you don't have things like this that often."