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Utah's top law enforcement office says it won't pay the $1.5 million legal bill racked up by former Utah Attorney General John Swallow in successfully fighting corruption charges because he wasn't in office when tried and acquitted.

Besides, the attorney general's office contends, it doesn't have the money.

The assertions are laid out in a May 9 letter from the Utah attorney general's office to Swallow attorney Scott C. Williams.

"Mr. Swallow was not 'elected or appointed to or employed by' the attorney general's office 'at the time' of his acquittal in March 2017," the letter from Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green states. "He resigned … in November 2013. His claim must be denied on that basis."

Under state law, public officers or state employees accused of committing crimes in the course of their official duties can recoup fees and court costs if they are acquitted or if the charges are dropped.

The law is designed to deter frivolous or weak prosecutions and encourage people to do public service by mitigating their risk of liability, Williams said.

According to the attorney general's office, however, the intent of the law is that it applies only when the accused is still in a public post "at the time of ... acquittal."

Williams responded: "This is fatuous legal reasoning, which should be embarrassing to the attorney general."

It also runs counter to three Utah Court of Appeals rulings, which upheld lower courts' award of fees to former public employees and officers — a teacher, a mayor and a liquor control officer — over the objections of the state, Swallow co-counsel Brad Anderson said.

All three defendants were no longer in their government jobs when their cases were resolved and were awarded fees, Anderson said.

Swallow is now considering whether to sue the state to get his bills paid, Williams said.

"Likely at more expense to the taxpayer," he added.

In 2014, the Salt Lake County district attorney's office charged Swallow with multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of public corruption-related crimes tied to events and acts that occurred both while he worked in the office as the civil division chief and after his election as attorney general in 2012.

A jury acquitted him on all counts in March 2017.

Williams sent a demand letter to the state April 17, seeking $1.5 million to cover the cost of legal work before and during the trial. The amount also includes payments to expert witnesses, consultants, investigators and other lawyers who worked for Swallow over the three years of the case.

A breakdown of the fees show the bulk of the bill, nearly $900,000, would be paid to Williams, Anderson and co-counsel Cara Tangaro, who collectively worked nearly 4,000 hours on the case, the demand letter asserts.

Williams also offered the state a 10 percent discount on the bill — bringing it down to about $1.4 million — if the state would settle the matter quickly.

Nothing in the attorney general's office response letter suggests that the fees being sought are unreasonable, but it does say the funds just aren't in the budget.

Swallow's next option, the letter states, is to appeal the denial to the state Board of Examiners, which can decide on the eligibility of his claim. The board is comprised of the attorney general, governor and the state auditor.

If the board agreed to Swallow's claim, the funds would be paid through an appropriation from the Legislature, according to the law that establishes the board.

"I don't really want to sue the state," Swallow said Thursday. "But I didn't ask to be brought into this fight. They came after me, and I had to defend myself."

According to the legislative fiscal analyst's office, the attorney general's litigation fund, which can be used to pay settlements, will have an $800,000 budget in the fiscal year that begins July 1. That's down from the $1 million balance the fund held the previous year.

In the past, the analyst's office said, when the attorney general's office has been short of settlement funds, it has asked the Legislature for money to pay the bill.

The attorney general's office has similarly denied a demand for $1.1 million in legal fees from Swallow's predecessor and onetime co-defendant Mark Shurtleff. Shurtleff's case was dismissed at the request of Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings, who was handling his case., Twitter @jenniferdobner