Prosecutorial oversight reform in Utah County, Utah | 2018

Utah County has been debating oversight of prosecutors, an issue that features in the 2018 county attorney election 

Prosecutorial misconduct draws little accountability in Utah. “A Salt Lake Tribune analysis of court documents and public records show[s] Utah’s prosecutors are rarely disciplined, even as complaints of misconduct are brought to light during court proceedings or in the appeals process,” Jessica Miller wrote in her detailed 2017 investigation.

Last year, the Utah County commission proposed creating a review board external to the county attorney’s office to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The idea was backed by the ACLU of Utah and the Libertas Institute, and also by residents demanding more oversight of prosecutors. But it derailed in February after police and prosecutors rallied against it. County Attorney Jeff Buhman called it “a direct attack” on prosecutors, proposing instead an internal board that would report to the county attorney.

Buhman did not run for a new term this year. The ensuing Republican primary, tantamount to winning the election in this typically GOP-voting county, ended with the victory of David Leavitt, the former county attorney of a smaller county who has also worked as a public defender. Leavitt defeated Chad Grunander, who works in the county attorney’s office.

Leavitt and Grunander offered differing views on whether to create an external review board, the Daily Herald recounts. Grunander’s stance was similar to the incumbent’s: clear opposition. But Leavitt defended the idea of an external board, though one that would operate statewide under the attorney general’s control rather than at the county level. This disagreement mirrored a wider clash between the two on whether prosecutorial misconduct is a problem in Utah County. Grunander rejected that premise, but Leavitt said that the commission’s proposal was born of a series of “abuses” that had “made the citizens rise up and say ‘enough is enough.’”

Leavitt did not reply to a request for comment clarifying his stance on the board as proposed.

The Utah County commission indefinitely tabled its proposal in February, so I will track whether it picks it up again and what position Leavitt adopts in response if he wins in November. His only general election opponent, Libertarian Andrew McCullough, supports an external review board.

published on Aug. 2, 2018 | Daniel Nichanian