Utah Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart (Republican, Orem), has just sent out a fourth email to legislators about the possible impeachment of Attorney General John Swallow.
In the latest email, Speaker Lockhart seems to share the frustration of lawmakers like Rep Spencer Cox, about the talking point being pushed by Swallow and his spokespeople that the “only reason to impeach would be a criminal act.” The Speaker emphasizes that criminal acts should only be part of the considerations—a reference to the multiple acts of impropriety that the Attorney General has been accused of, including free use of house boats, and an all-expenses-paid vacation to the California villa of Marc Jensen, who was at the time being investigated by the Attorney General’s office.
This latest email is yet another sign that the House is getting extremely close to opening the impeachment process, which would essentially mean a public investigation into Swallow’s alleged wrongdoings.
Last week, House Democrats unanimously signed an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune calling for the investigation, the Senate Democrats have also called for an investigation, and the Utah Democratic Party released a list of 69 election reform and ethics bills run by Democrats over the past 15 years that they say would have prevented a Swallow-type scandal. Only 6 of those 69 bills ever became law.
As for Swallow himself, he and his attorneys have sent a strongly worded letter to the Utah Legislature, claiming that it would be illegal for them to impeach him unless he is convicted of a crime.
Over the past several weeks I have shared with you information about the impeachment process and our options as The House of Representatives. I have great faith in our members and our ability to do the right thing with adequate and appropriate information. I sincerely hope you have all taken the opportunity to read and consider the information. I realize we all have professions and families, but we now consider probably the most significant issue that will ever face us.
I have spent many months and countless hours pouring over all of the information I could find. I have read and considered various court cases, both in Utah and other states, and at the Federal level. Because Utah’s House has never completed an impeachment, the cases specific to Utah and reliance on their conclusions and their application in this situation are problematic.
They address statutory removals from office not involving the House of Representatives and Constitutional impeachment. The courts at all levels have been very resistant to getting involved in an impeachment process constitutionally reserved to the Legislature or Congress. We cannot and should not look to the Courts to solve problems and questions left to the House of Representatives by Constitution.
Our Federal Founders based the impeachment process and the language surrounding that article on a set of rules and commonly accepted definitions from England. Parliament used impeachment as a tool to “check” the god-ordained power of the King. The King’s authority could not be questioned or challenged, but that of his appointed ministers could. Research shows that Utah’s constitutional convention engaged in very little debate about impeachment and essentially adopted the language of the federal constitution. They only briefly debated technical wording concerning the notice required to be served on the official in question. This evidence gives us context in terms of the intent of Utah when adopting the state constitution. We can rely heavily on the understood and widely-accepted definitions of high crimes, misdemeanors, and malfeasance. I have provided you with various interpretations and expert commentary for your consideration.
Impeachment is given to the House of Representatives because we are the People’s house and therefore, are most able to understand and reflect the concerns and views of the people, our constituents. The question before us is one of Public Trust. Guilt or innocence as to the technicalities of the law is reserved for the Court system. Technical violations of the law may be part of our considerations, but need not be a limiting factor. We must be careful. Impeachment is overturning a popularly elected official. It should be done cautiously and carefully. None of us is perfect and it should be with great sobriety that we consider our responsibilities. The people of Utah deserve our most serious contemplation. The Constitution gives us the duty to protect the Public Trust, not to convict or aquit in criminal matters.
We have accusations and allegations of misconduct as well as various statements from the Attorney General himself. We need further information. The people of Utah need further information. Can we and should we wait for the multiple criminal investigations to conclude? What are your constituents telling you? Has the public trust been violated? Could our action or inaction further erode the public trust? These are just a few of the questions that plague me daily, as I know they do many of you.
I encourage honest, open and vigorous debate of the issues before us. I am unafraid of the truth, even if it is uncomfortable. Not one of us considered that we would be placed in this situation, but we are. Let us be diligent, thoughtful and careful as we move forward.
Attached are a few more documents that may be of help.
•The Law of Presidential Impeachement/Article written in 1973 by Edwin Brown Firmage, Professor of Law, University of Utah
•Connecticut and Illinois Special Investigative Committee Reports regarding impeachment proceedings of their respective Governors/the first 8-10 pages of each report will be the most helpful
•Letter received by John Fellows, the Legislature’s General Counsel, hand-delivered last week by Rod Snow, Attorney General John Swallow’s personal attorney
Speaker Becky Lockhart