SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's former Attorney General John Swallow, who resigned amid corruption allegations, sued the state for reimbursement of the nearly $1.6 million in legal fees he accumulated during a court battle that ended with a jury acquitting him.
Swallow's lawsuit filed Tuesday cites a Utah law that requires the state to pay legal bills for defending public officials who are acquitted of criminal charges related to their jobs. He chose to sue after not hearing back from state officials about his claim for nine months.
"It wasn't done without a lot of thought," Swallow said Wednesday. "You don't take on the state of Utah casually ... I fit squarely within the definition of the statute and I'm entitled to those fees."
The attorney general's office declined to comment on the lawsuit Wednesday, but state lawyers said last year they disagree with Swallow's interpretation of the law.
In a letter sent last May in response to Swallow's claim, a state lawyer said the law does not apply because Swallow had resigned before a jury acquitted him in 2017. He also said the attorney general's office doesn't have funds to pay the nearly $1.6 million, instructing Swallow to make a claim through the state Board of Examiners to get funds from the general fund.
Swallow said Wednesday that he is writing a book about what he described as his "ordeal" and wants to speak to companies and government agencies about how to avoid the same thing happening to them.
Swallow, a Republican, was a state legislator from 1997 to 2002 before he made two unsuccessful bids for Congress in 2002 and 2004. At the state attorney general's office, he became the chief deputy attorney general and directed the civil division, where he oversaw lawsuits against federal health care reform.
After pledging to root out fraud and make white-collar crime a priority, he won the 2012 election to become attorney general and succeed the retiring Mark Shurtleff, who held the seat for 12 years.
Swallow's tenure in the top office was short-lived.
He resigned in late 2013 after spending nearly 11 months dogged by bribery and corruption allegations that emerged less than a week after he took the oath of office. Swallow adamantly denied breaking any laws and said he stepped down because the scrutiny had become too much for him and his family.
The next year, prosecutors filed charges accusing Swallow and Shurtleff of hanging a virtual "for sale" sign on the door to the state's top law enforcement office by taking campaign donations and gifts like beach vacations in exchange for favorable treatment. Shurtleff's case was dismissed.
After the jury found him not guilty in March 2017 of nine counts that included bribery, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering, Swallow said he was naive and that he "did some things I wish I hadn't have done" but insisted that the jury's decision exonerated him.
Swallow, 55, said the allegations and news stories about them have inhibited his ability to make money at the same level did before he resigned. He said he had to take money from his retirement and savings and borrow from others to try and pay the legal costs.
He said he runs his own small law firm now, but he's hopeful his new corporate training company called Change Strategies LLC takes off. Swallow said he's partnering with a woman who has three decades experience giving corporate trainings in hopes of being hired to provide guidance to companies about how to foster a discrimination-free workplace.
Their first presentation is slated for this spring in Salt Lake City, he said.
Part of that training will focus on how to avoid falling victim to false allegations, the focus of the book he's writing that he said will likely be self-published. The topic is timely due to how easily and quickly allegations can spread on social media, he said.
"It seems like for every instance of harassment, on the other side of that is a false allegation," Swallow said. "I'm really excited about taking my experience in false allegations, prosecuted as an innocent man, and helping others deal with the realities of today."