ST. GEORGE — Thursday Rep. Jim Dunnigan was named the chair of the House Special Investigative Committee investigating Attorney General John Swallow. The replacement came as a result of a potential conflict of interest the first-appointed chairman, Rep. V. Lowry Snow, had with the investigation.
Swallow has been accused of wrongdoing on several fronts, originating with accusations that he helped orchestrate bribery of U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to eliminate action by the Federal Trade Connection against Utah businessman Jeremy Johnson, and other misconduct leading up to the unprecedented House Special Investigative Committee.
The House of Representatives created a Special Investigative Committee to look into allegations against Swallow.
The House investigation is estimated to cost as much as $3 million.
Resignation and appointments
Among related potential conflicts, Snow, a lawyer, has provided legal services for one of Swallow’s chief accusers, Jeremy Johnson.
Snow and Speaker of the House Rebecca Lockhart said his resignation was by mutual agreement.
In his place, Lockhart appointed Dunnigan, a Republican from Taylorsville, to chair the committee.
“Rep. Dunnigan is a veteran lawmaker who is a widely respected member of the House,” Lockhart said. “I expect he will be tough but fair in how he runs this committee.
“Rep. Snow is above reproach,” she said, “which is why he was chosen as chairman in the first place. But whether we like it or not, perception matters in the public sphere. It pains me to lose him, his talents and leadership skills.”
Snow said his top concern was that the investigation be done with integrity and transparency.
“I felt it was in the best interests of the committee to step aside in order to avoid any perception of conflict of interest,” Snow said. “This will allow the public to focus on the investigation, and not on who is doing the investigating.”
Dunnigan, who has served in the Republican-controlled House since 2003, owns an insurance agency. Lockhart appointed Dunnigan last week as one of the Republicans on the investigative committee. The panel consists of five Republicans and four Democrats.
Rep. Francis Gibson has been chosen by Lockhart to fill the open position left by Snow on the committee. Gibson has served in the Utah House of Representatives since 2009. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Houston. He is currently serving as the Chair of the House Education Committee, and is a past chairman of the House Ethics Committee.
On Thursday, the state’s Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel opened its request for bids from 61 law firms seeking to advise the committee during the investigation. The list includes law offices from New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago and includes 20 bids from Utah lawfirms.
The outside counsel is still being sought and will be announced Aug. 6; a contract is expected to be awarded Aug. 9.
“I have great faith in the abilities of Rep. Dunnigan to chair this important committee in a professional and thorough manner,” Rep. Jon Stanard said, who has served on six House committees including among others the Business and Labor committee, which Rep. Dunnigan chairs. Stanard said he expects Dunnigan will do a great job on this new assignment but observed that with Snow’s resignation, there is no Southern Utah representation on the investigative committee.
“I think it is unfortunate that we no longer have anyone from Southern Utah on this very important committee,” Stanard said. “In fact, I don’t believe there is anyone south of Utah county. However, I have full faith in Speaker Lockhart’s choice’s of the members to fill this committee.”
Snow’s conflicts of interest
In 2008, Snow was an attorney representing several defendants including Jeremy Johnson, the indicted St. George businessman who has served up several allegations against Attorney General John Swallow, and according to court records Snow filed a motion to get Johnson dismissed from the case in January 2011.
Liahona Academy, had its assets frozen in the Federal Trade Commission case against Johnson, and the school for troubled boys is represented by Snow’s firm, Snow Jensen & Reece.
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