- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The state of Utah has refused to pay $1.5 million in legal bills for a former Utah Attorney General acquitted of bribery and other charges in one of the most high-profile cases in state history, according to a letter made public by the Utah Attorney General on Friday.

While Utah law requires the state to pay legal bills for defending public employees who acquitted of criminal charges related to their jobs, those laws do not apply in the case of John Swallow because he was not working for the state when he was found not guilty, state attorneys argued.

The office also does not have money available in it its budget to pay the bills, Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green wrote.

The document was written in response to a notice of claim from Scott Williams, the lawyer who represented Swallow at his trial. Williams did not immediately return calls for comment. Notices of claims are official notification that a government agency may be sued.

Swallow was acquitted in March of nine criminal counts that included bribery, obstruction of justice and evidence tampering.

Along with his predecessor Mark Shurtleff, he was accused 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.

Swallow’s defense attorneys successfully argued that the case was a politically motivated smear campaign by a Democratic district attorney up for re-election and that prosecutors twisted facts to fit the story they wanted to tell.

Shurtleff has already filed suit against his former employer, saying the state should pay his $1.1 million in legal fees. The prosecutor dropped the charges against Shurtleff before a trial was held.

Attorney Greg Skordas has successfully defended other public employees accused of crimes related to their jobs, but says the legal expenses in the Swallow and Shurtleff cases far outstrips the legal costs for all other public employees he has represented.

“This will easily dwarf any other case in our state’s history,” he said.

The law requiring the state to pay public employees’ legal bills is intended to as a measure of protection for them plus recognition that government jobs often pay less than the private sector, he said.

In 2005, Skordas secured a $100,000 payment from Salt Lake County for Nancy Workman, a onetime county mayor acquitted of misusing taxpayer money.

The attorney general’s letter in the Swallow case was first reported by The Salt Lake Tribune.

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