This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The district attorney's race is all about one person, Lohra Miller, and how she has spent the past four years as Salt Lake County's top prosecutor.
One version trumpeted by Miller herself says she advocated criminal-justice reform, championed tougher enforcement of domestic violence and elder abuse, and saved taxpayer money through initiatives that include plans to build a permanent home for prosecutors' offices downtown that would cut out millions in lease payments.
The other dished out by her Democratic opponent, Sim Gill portrays Miller as a person who pursued a personal vendetta against a former political rival and veteran prosecutor that cost taxpayers big bucks, eroded the public trust through decisions such as tapping stimulus money to hire three laid-off employees from her husband's law firm, and led the D.A.'s Office to a new low in morale.
This race clearly is the most hotly contested county contest on the ballot with Gill, Salt Lake City's prosecutor, trying to oust a Republican incumbent who edged him in 2006 by 3 percentage points.
While Miller has tried to focus on her accomplishments including creation of specialized prosecution teams for domestic violence, elder abuse and felony DUIs she has been dogged by Gill's repeated reminders of headlines during her first term that he views as public-trust pitfalls.
"There is a perception, and to a certain extent a reality, that the District Attorney's Office is broken and needs to be fixed," Gill says. "As a public institution, if you lose that public trust, you lose your ability to work effectively."
"It is unfortunate that he focuses on negative headlines as a reason to run," Miller counters. "Behind every one of those headlines is a story about us doing something in the District Attorney's Office and doing the right thing."
The centerpiece of Miller's candidacy is a criminal-justice plan that aims to resolve up to a third of all criminal cases within 30 days. It has been a banner issue for the first-term D.A., who secured a $745,000 stimulus grant to put the program in place.
Miller has argued that quicker adjudication will ease pressure on the jail, result in more defendants showing up for court appearances and reduce recidivism by putting punishments closer to the crimes. That swifter justice, she says, could begin early next year.
"If we want to really improve the quality of life in Salt Lake County," she says, "we have to look at the whole system."
Miller points to other accomplishments: helping to arrange a land deal a block away from the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse for a $24.5 million to $29.5 million D.A. building, potentially saving the county between $1.6 million and $6.6 million in lease payments over the life of the construction loan; increasing the focus on domestic violence, reportedly raising the conviction rate from 30 percent to 70 percent; and working with the National District Attorneys Association to put a national advocacy-training center in Salt Lake City, potentially bringing thousands of attorneys a year to Utah.
But Gill argues that the D.A.'s Office has suffered under Miller's leadership, with headlines such as these: "Documents show D.A. ran law business for years without a license," "Lohra Miller Show: District attorney or drama queen?" and "D.A. hires laid-off staffers from hubby's firm." Those kinds of stories have hurt the office's credibility to an extent, Gill says, that "even when you want to say something valid, no one is listening."
Gill also criticizes his opponent's leadership, saying she squandered public resources in pursuing misconduct allegations against veteran prosecutor Kent Morgan a case that ultimately ended in a lawsuit settlement and early retirement buyout worth $325,000. Gill's campaign says the D.A.'s Office spent 768 staff hours on the case and additional dollars not reflected in that settlement.
Miller stands behind her decision to take action against Morgan, whom she fired in 2008 on suspicion of leaking confidential information to his friend and then-defendant Santiago Steven Maese, who owned Doll House Escorts. Although Morgan later was reinstated by a county review panel albeit with a demotion Miller says she was justified.
"When you have a prosecutor that has over 200 phone calls from someone ultimately convicted of felony behavior," Miller says, "by any standard that is not acceptable from a prosecutor."
But Gill says the county deserves better from a D.A. who, according to a county review panel, later retaliated against Morgan by refusing to assign him cases or let him appear in court.
Gill says his top priority is to restore trust, inside the office and out.
His strategy: work more closely with valley law enforcement by assigning a prosecutor to each police department, increase communication with county mayors, quit charging defense lawyers for court documents (an issue that recently spawned a lawsuit), launch a prosecution task force with Summit, Davis, Utah and Tooele counties to combat crime regionally, attract more mid-level prosecutors to an office that Gill says has a gap between rookie and veteran attorneys, focus resources on fighting violent crime, and get rid of "boutique" prosecution teams that lead to a "bloating of management."
"I want to return to the basics," he says, "of doing what we need to do."
Gill says he is qualified to do it, having worked for a decade as Salt Lake City's chief prosecutor and covering a felony caseload before that as an attorney for the D.A.'s Office.
But, in the end, the election could come down to one person: Lohra Miller. The question is which version voters will choose to believe.
Age • 44
Family • Husband, Lorenzo; four children
Political party • Republican
Education • Bachelor's degree in history from Brigham Young University; law degree from BYU
Background •Contract prosecutor for five Salt Lake County communities, 1998-2006; director and instructor of the Western Regional Police Corps Curriculum, 1999-2005; city prosecutor and assistant city prosecutor for West Jordan, 1993-98
Hobbies • Falconry, scuba diving
Interesting fact • She got rid of her landline during her first month as district attorney. She prefers a Blackberry instead.
Age • 49
Family • Wife, Jamie Tabish; two children
Political party • Democrat
Education •Bachelor's degree in history and philosophy from the University of Utah, law degree from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore.
Background • More than 15 years of prosecuting experience in the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, Salt Lake City and Layton. Appointed chief Salt Lake City prosecutor in 2000
Hobbies • Golfing, reading philosophy, watching movies and cooking.
Interesting fact • He and his daughter are Food Network junkies who love to cook together.
Where do Sim Gill and Lohra Miller stand on three key issues?
What would you do as district attorney to improve public safety in the county?
Gill • We need to balance alternatives to incarceration with a "credible threat" of accountability and consequences. Approximately 400 defendants are being released from the county jail monthly due to overcrowding, which undermines law enforcement. We need a definitive baseline of how many jail beds are needed for a county of our size. Until then, we are simply guessing and putting our community at risk.
Miller • While continuing to focus on domestic violence, DUI, elder abuse and gang violence, I have a plan for the future of the District Attorney's Office which includes drastic criminal-justice reform. This collaborative reform effort includes partnerships with the 3rd District Court, Criminal Justice Services, Adult Probation & Parole, the Sheriff's Office, local law enforcement and many others. Once implemented, the new system will improve efficiencies and reduce costs, while improving offender accountability.
What would make you a better district attorney than your opponent?
Miller • As the current Salt Lake County district attorney, I have over 18 years as a public attorney and prosecutor. The District Attorney's Office is one of the largest law firms in the state, with a budget of over $20 million and 230 employees. I have successfully led this office through a historic time of financial crisis, making innovative and progressive budgeting decisions which have saved taxpayers millions.
Gill • Experience. Knowledge. Trust. The bipartisan support of eight current Republican and Democratic mayors in Salt Lake County. The endorsement of all three major law enforcement agencies, including the Salt Lake Police Association, Unified Police Federation and The Fraternal Order of Police. Finally, I am the only candidate with felony prosecution experience.
What is your position on the construction of a county-owned District Attorney's Office downtown?
Gill • While owning is definitely preferable to leasing, the state of our economy leads me to question the timing. We have a responsibility to make sure that the process is transparent and that citizens have the opportunity to provide input before making such a large financial obligation.
Miller • I support Mayor [Peter] Corroon's decision to begin this project at this time. With Salt Lake County's excellent bond rating and construction costs at an all-time low, the financial benefit to county taxpayers will be substantial. Just as with individual homeowners, the county's decision to own a permanent building for the D.A. offices as opposed to continued leasing just makes financial sense.