Yesterday, Utah Political Capitol broke the story about AG John Swallow and his attorneys, who are claiming that it would be illegal for the Utah Legislature to impeach the scandal-laden Attorney General, because he hasn’t technically committed a crime. But a review of Utah Supreme Court rulings reveals that the claim is not accurate.
In their letter to the Utah Legislature, in an attempt to dissuade them from proceeding with the impeachment process, Swallow and his attorneys argued that impeaching him would be a “violation of Utah law.” The Utah constitution’s impeachment language says that an elected official can be impeached for “high crimes, misdemeanors, or malfeasance in office.” While the legislature’s attorneys have maintained that lawmakers have the right to define high crimes, misdemeanors and malfeasance however they wish (because no federal judge has ever defined them), Swallow says that the Utah Supreme Court backs him up in the argument that he can only be impeached if he’s convicted of a crime.
However, a review of Utah Supreme Court rulings reveals that the law is not on Swallow’s side. In “The Utah State Constitution: A Reference Guide,” it references a 1961 case in Utah where a defendant challenged the phrase “malfeasance in office” as being so vague that it was unconstitutional. But the Utah Supreme Court held that the term was not vague, and was commonly understood as “an intentional act or omission which amounts to a crime or involves a substantial breach of trust imposed on an official by his office,” (emphasis added).
In other words, the Utah Supreme Court has specifically made the clarification that an elected official can be impeached for either committing a crime, or violating the public’s trust through unethical behavior or other means.
A copy of the entire book “The Utah State Constitution: A Reference Guide” is below, the relevant passages are on page 81.
H/T to UPC reader Jason Williams.