Jeremy Johnson will act as his own lawyer in fraud trial

Posted at 1:09 PM, Jan 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-05 20:15:19-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- A St. George businessman at the center of the political scandal surrounding former Utah Attorneys General John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff has decided to jettison his legal team and represent himself in an upcoming federal trial.

"I'd like to," Jeremy Johnson told FOX 13 as he walked into federal court on Tuesday, declining to comment further because of a gag order in the case.

Johnson appeared before two different federal judges on Tuesday, where each brought up whether acting as his own lawyer is a smart idea. Still, they allowed him to proceed.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner appointed Johnson's most recent attorney, Greg Skordas, to act as "standby counsel" but warned Johnson that he'd have to do all the work.

"He can assist you by advising and counseling and discussing issues with you," Warner said. "He will be here at trial with you. But he will not be the one to stand up and make an opening statement. He will not be the one to question witnesses, he will not make objections. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," Johnson told him. "I'm thankful the court appointed me this."

Jeremy Johnson briefly speaks to FOX 13 outside the federal courthouse on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (FOX 13 News)

Jeremy Johnson briefly speaks to FOX 13 outside the federal courthouse on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016. (FOX 13 News)

Johnson has gone through three sets of lawyers now as he prepares to go on trial next month on dozens of counts accusing him of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering. Most recently, he claimed there was a conflict of interest with another of his lawyers, Rebecca Skordas, who one time represented a government witness in the case. Judge Warner said Tuesday he had determined there was no conflict.

Still, Johnson wants to press ahead as his own lawyer. He and his co-defendants are accused of creating shell companies to process credit and debit card charges, despite being placed on a list by credit card companies because of a high number of demands for money back. Johnson and his co-defendants have all denied any wrongdoing.

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer on Tuesday outlined a trial schedule where dozens of witnesses will testify. More than 120 prospective jurors will be called, with ultimately 14 chosen for the six week trial.

Johnson emerged as a key figure in the corruption cases against Shurtleff and Swallow when he told reporters that Swallow solicited bribes from him to influence high-level federal officials (including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid) as he faced investigation. The judge in Johnson's upcoming trial has forbidden any mention of Shurtleff or Swallow.

Johnson is expected to be a witness in the criminal cases against Shurtleff and Swallow. The two former Utah Attorneys General are facing corruption-related charges, accused of accepting gifts and donations from people facing investigation by the office. Both Shurtleff and Swallow have pleaded not guilty.