April 23, 2014

Phone calls, threats, and deputies: dysfunctions in John Swallow’s office

Kirk Torgensen is Deputy Attorney General under Utah Attorney General John Swallow. He is alleged to have made a threatening phone call to the law partner of a criminal defendant who has accused Swallow of a shakedown for cash.

Kirk Torgensen is Deputy Attorney General under Utah Attorney General John Swallow. He is alleged to have made a threatening phone call to the law partner of a criminal defendant who has accused Swallow of a shakedown for cash.

With his chief Deputy Kirk Torgensen making phone calls described as “threatening” to opposing counsel, claiming that he’s questioned Attorney General John Swallow’s behavior for years, and that he’s disgusted with Swallow’s behavior, it’s hard to believe Swallow when he says that morale is ok in the Attorney General’s office.

Even if he is having the time of his life.

Last week, John Swallow made his report to the Utah GOP’s leadership. The Republican State Central Committee meets quarterly, and it’s typical for elected officials who were elected with the GOP’s nomination to make a report at these meetings.

Not surprisingly, one of the first things Swallow addressed was the scandals that have plagued his administration as Attorney General from the very beginning. Calling it a “firestorm,” he asserted that he believed that he would be cleared of all charges. In fact, Swallow said, he was having the time of his life as AG.

Uh, huh. Sure…having the time of his life. Right.

To mitigate the damage from the scandals, Swallow said in his report that he had reorganized the Attorney General’s office to prevent the kinds of things that he was being accused of from happening.

The irony that it was due to his behavior that the reorganization was necessary does not escape me.

SwallowSwallow had made Kirk Torgensen his chief Deputy Attorney General, bringing both criminal and civil divisions under his control. Further, former US Army Major General Brian Tarbet was now Swallow’s chief-of-staff and all requests for appointments were funneled through a process that prevented any kind of favoritism. As far as he can tell, said Swallow, morale in his office is good and, as I noted earlier, Swallow said he was having the time of his life.

Meanwhile, earlier that same day Swallow’s Deputy Torgensen was making a phone call that was sure to blow a hole in Swallow’s damage control efforts and raise questions about morale in the AG’s office.

Sometime around 9:15 AM, Torgensen called Brett Rawson, the law partner of Marcus Mumford, defense attorney for Marc Jenson, the man who has accused Swallow of shaking him down for $2 million. Torgensen’s mother had earlier called her son to express concern about a news story the night before that had made prominent mention of her son in relation to Swallow.

And now, Torgensen was unloading on Rawson to make sure a message got back to Mumford. According to court filings (read them below), Torgensen repeatedly called Rawson, who elsewhere he has referred to as an “old friend,” as “hey, guy,” and warned him that Mumford needed to be careful. Rawson described Torgensen’s tone throughout the conversation as “angry.”

Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was named, along with Swallow, in court documents seeking a protective order against the Attorney General's office. Having personally witnessed, and been the recipient, of Shurtleff's threatening behavior in the past, I don't find it hard to see why.

Former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was named, along with Swallow, in court documents seeking a protective order against the Attorney General’s office. Having personally witnessed, and been the recipient, of Shurtleff’s threatening behavior in the past, I don’t find it hard to see why.

If that wasn’t enough, after news of the let’s-not-call-it-a-threat threatening phone call was released to the press from the steps of the court house, Torgensen called Rawson back. On June 24, Torgensen rung up his “old friend” again in what sounded to Rawson like an effort to get Rawson to agree on a recorded phone call that Torgensen had not been threatening in his first call.

Unfortunately, you can’t unring that bell, put the toothpaste back in the tube, or otherwise hit CTRL Z.

By Friday, as others involved in the case came forward to say that they had received similar threatening phone calls from members of the AGs office, as well as visits to their neighborhoods and homes, Mumford had filed for a protective order from the court, including in his order former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff.

In the court filings, several very interesting items emerged, all of which conflict with Swallow’s assertion that all is well with his staff.

  • According to Rawson, Torgensen said in the June 22 phone call that he was “disgusted” with the behavior of Swallow, his “boss.” What does this say about the morale of the office if the Deputy over the entire office is disgusted with the principal?
  • According to Rawson, Torgensen first apologized when he called on June 24, and then said that he had been concerned about both Swallow’s and Shurtleff’s behavior for years.  Then why is he still working there rather than testifying against them?

Whether these are the acts of a man embarrassed to find himself featured in an unflattering light on the evening news or indicative that the Attorney General’s office, and Deputy, is operating dysfunctionally and on low morale, it raises serious questions about Swallow’s management of the Attorney General’s office.

Utah CapitolThe Utah House will convene on July 3 to establish rules for a committee to investigate Swallow. The draft resolution for the committee allows investigation into allegations against Swallow both during his current term and during his time as Deputy AG prior to taking office. I hope that the committee will also examine the effect his actions have had on the effective functioning of the AG’s office. The people of Utah deserve a fair, just, and effectively functioning Attorney General’s office. Further, the attorneys working in that office deserve leadership that is clear of scandal and holds the public trust. The more information we learn about Swallow and his behavior, the less clear it is that the public trust remains in his administration.

But he is having the time of his life. Too bad that’s not the measure that matters for the public trust. 


 

Jenson Mot Protective Order Memo

Jenson Mot Protective Order Declarations Rawson Stori and Nelson

 

About Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas. He is active on social media, Republican politics, and has been named to PoliticIt’s list of the “Top-50 Utah Political Opinion Leaders” on Twitter. You can reach him directly at dan.burton@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Yes, John Swallow should be thrown out of office. He is as disgraceful of not more so than Barack Obama. However, and I know people will reject this theory, if the fool voters had had enough sense to simply look into his eyes when he was running they would have known he was a corrupt sleazy person. It is right there in hie eyes.

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