April 25, 2014

Gill and Bennion in the press: a study in restraint and the lack thereof

Chad Bennion, Salt Lake County Republican Party Chair.

It’s hard to tell who feels more “fortunate” right now: the “prosecutor,” the “press,” or the “politician.”

The first, Sim Gill, has just finished a difficult investigation into the shooting death of an unarmed woman by West Valley police in November of 2012. His findings, relying heavily on forensic evidence at the scene of Danielle Willard’s death, found that not only did the undercover police officers‘ story not match what happened, but they were not justified in shooting her. In the press conference announcing the findings of his investigation, Gill was impressively restrained.

He would not, however, comment on what motivated the detectives to tell a story different from what he said the evidence showed. He also cautioned against “rumors” of a department-wide cover-up or conspiracy in the Willard case, and said the department had been cooperative in assisting his office’s investigation. He also emphasized the actions of “one or some” officers was not indicative of the entire department.

If the news report is to be trusted, Gill was the model restraint, avoiding politicization or grand standing.

The second, the press, has found themselves a controversy that doesn’t, for once,  lead back to Attorney General John Swallow. On one side, Gill’s investigation has leveled some serious accusations against members of the West Valley police. On the other is the Fraternal Order of Police and–here where we need to introduce the politician–Chad Bennion, chair of the Salt Lake County Republican Party.  The only thing that sells  better than controversy is sex, and since this is Salt Lake, the Tribune will have to settle for controversy.

And Bennion delivered that. When Bennion heard Gill’s results, instead of making a comment about Gill using the investigation to increase his profile or something in support of the people of West Valley, or the police, or even the parents of Willard, to say nothing about upholding the rule of law, he jumped at the opportunity to score political points.

Salt Lake County Republican Chairman Chad Bennion was even more blunt, calling Gill’s record “weak” and suggesting the D.A.’s upbringing in India, where Gill has discussed witnessing injustices, may be tainting his current performance. Bennion said Gill has been “letting criminals off” — a reference to the scores of cases that have been dismissed over concerns about West Valley City’s Narcotics Unit — while coming down hard on police officers.

Salt Lake County District Attorney, Sim Gill

The cases in question were dismissed by Gill after it came to light that members of the now disbanded West Valley Police narcotics unit were mishandling and mis-labelling evidence, as well as possibly missing drugs and money. Back then, Gill declined to identify the officers in question, but they turned out to be the same officers as shot Willard.

Any second year law student can tell you that evidence that has been contaminated by improper handling will make it impossible to use in court.  Any defense lawyer worth his bar license would have a field day with the best prosecutor using mishandled and tainted evidence.

But that’s not the worst of what Bennion said. Up to now, anything Bennion said about the cases could be written off to being poorly informed. However, it’s attacking Gill for his “upbringing in India” when Bennion begins to show evidence of a less than objective perspective.

I’m not sure whether that has the taint of racism or is just an effort to color Gill’s performance as biased. I’m inclined to note, however, that if Gill is biased, he’s done a remarkable job of keeping his comments  restrained and on topic. In short, he’s limited himself to the performance of his duties, leaving color commentary to others.

To pile it on, Bennion called Gill a “cop hater” and when asked by the press said he stood by his comments, earning himself another day in the news. It smacks of someone looking towards the next election more than the interests of truth and justice. Which, after all, is why Bennion may be counting himself lucky. Salt Lake County is no longer safely Republican, and Bennion has a lot of lost ground to make up.


I know Bennion, and I like him. He’s a reasonable guy. But I can’t imagine what would possess him to attack Gill in such crude terms. Gill’s motives are immaterial to the results of the investigation or the dismissal of cases, a fact that should have some bearing on how Bennion should be representing his party in his public discourse, especially when criticizing the findings. If Bennion wants to uphold the rule of law, as well as prove that the Republican Party in Salt Lake County is as interested in justice and keeping cops accountable as it is in winning elections, then Bennion should apologize and more carefully describe his criticisms of Gill’s investigation.

Murder? The Gosnell trial and media silence

Kermit Gosnell photographed following his arrest

Kermit Gosnell photographed following his arrest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve not heard about Gosnell, I recommend you google it. According to Wikipedia (I know, the lazy man’s research tool):

Kermit Barron Gosnell is an American medical doctor who ran two women’s health clinics in Philadelphia between 1972 and 2011, and as of April 2013, is on trial for first and third degree murder, illegal prescribing of drugs, and related offenses.

It’s a very sterilized description. It gets more gruesome, though, as you start clicking links:

  • One woman died when an unlicensed employee in the clinic over-sedated her to keep her out until Gosnell, out of the clinic at the time, arrived. She was a healthy 41-year old
  • It’s reported that “Gosnell has been named in at least 46 malpractice suits, including one over the death of a 22-year-old mother who died of sepsis and a perforated uterus in 2000. Many others also involve perforated uteruses. Gosnell sometimes sewed up the injury without telling women their uteruses had been perforated,[.]“
  • According to page 87 of the Grand Jury report, Gosnell would charge up to $3,000 for abortions at 30 weeks, six weeks after the legal limit in Pennsylvania, when fetuses have become viable outside the womb. To give some context, a friend of our family’s recently gave birth at 20 weeks and while the child is in intensive care, it is alive and will be well.
  • According to page 23 of  the Presentment of the Grand Jury, “Gosnell’s staff testified that they often witnessed Gosnell killing large, late-term babies whom they had observed breathing and moving.”

And here is where it gets disturbing. What follows may make you squeamish and explains why Gosnell’s clinics have been given the infamous nickname “House of Horrors.” All are directly quoted from either the Presentment or the Grand Jury report:

  • According to an ultrasound, the 17-year old mother was 29.4 weeks pregnant. Gosnell induced labor and sedated the mother, who delivered a baby boy. Cross saw [the baby boy] breathe and move. Gosnell dismissed Cross’s observations, telling her, “it’s the baby’s reflexes. It’s not really moving.” Cross told us that the baby was 18 to 19 inches long and nearly the size of her own newborn daughter, who was six pounds, six ounces at birth. Even Gosnell commented on [the baby boy's] size, joking “this baby is big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop.” Cross testified that she saw “the doctor just slit the neck” and place the remains in a clear plastic shoe box for disposal.
  • The search team discovered red biohazard bags containing the remains of 47 fetuses, which were turned over to the medical examiner. One was ”Baby Boy B,” found frozen in a plastic spring-water jug [...]. The medical examiner determined that this baby had a gestational age of at least 28 weeks. Kareema Cross testified that she saw Williams [an employee of Gosnell] cut the neck of Baby C, who had been moving and breathing for approximately 20 minutes. Gosnell had delivered the baby and put it on a counter while he suctioned the placenta from the mother. Williams called Cross  [an employee of Gosnell] over to look at the baby because it was breathing and moving its arms when Williams pulled on them. After touching the baby, Williams slit its neck. When asked why Williams had killed the baby, Cross answered: Because the baby, I guess, because the baby was moving and breathing. And she see Dr. Gosnell do it so many times, I guess she felt, you know, she can do it. It’s okay.
  • Ashley Baldwin testified that she heard a baby crying in the large procedure room (the one used for later-term abortions) and saw it moving. She said Lynda Williams summoned Dr. Gosnell, who then went into the procedure room where the baby was. Ashley testified that Dr. Gosnell was the only person in the room with the baby, that he came out of the room and put the baby in the waste bin, and that she saw an incision. Kareema Cross testified that Ashley had called her over because she had heard the baby crying; Cross said that she heard this baby “whine” while Dr. Gosnell was alone in the procedure room with the baby. Based on the testimony of the neonatology expert, we believe this baby must have been at least 23 weeks of age and, because it cried more than once, probably older. This baby was born alive, and consistent with the medical guidelines and standards cited by the neonatology expert should have been resuscitated. Instead, it was killed.

A lot of issues are difficult.  Ask two Republicans or two Democrats for their take on immigration reform or gay marriage, and you’re likely to find they disagree. They are not clear cut issues.

Abortion, however,  is not and should not be one of those issues. A woman’s right to choose whether she has a baby should begin, and end, at the point when she may choose to engage in consensual sexual relations. Rape, incest, and danger to the mother’s life aside, it’s difficult to find a gray area for abortion.

In fact, not only is it difficult to find, but the clarity of that distinction has been covered by advocates such as Planned Parenthood–which recently argued “against a state law that would protect babies born alive after a botched abortion from being left to die, or worse yet, killed. She[, the Planned Parent lobbyist] was asked about Planned Parenthood’s position on whether an infant born in this situation should receive medical care, she repeatedly testified, “That decision should be between the patient and the health care provider.”

Lest we be confused, we’re talking a baby that is alive and breathing on the operating table and whether it should live is a decision “between patient and the health care provider” says Planned Parenthood. Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood has revised their position in the wake of public outrage that they would advocate the death of infants that survive abortion.

Which  turns back to the question here: why are we drawing a distinction from a life in utero and the life delivered?

But the question remains: How can killing a newborn infant be illegal and shocking to the collective conscience, yet ending that same life moments, days or weeks before be perfectly legal and socially acceptable as long as the baby is still in the womb? There is no logical answer.

Aside from how a baby receives food and oxygen, what changes occur to make the baby human out of the womb but something other than human the second before? Does the baby’s brain magically begin activity; does his or her heartbeat suddenly begin; does the baby abruptly begin moving on his or her own after birth? No, of course not. A baby possesses all of these qualities of life in utero.

It’s a tragedy, but perhaps more tragic is the appalling lack of media coverage the trial has received.

A Lexis-Nexis search shows none of the news shows on the three major national television networks has mentioned the Gosnell trial in the last three months. The exception is when Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan hijacked a segment on Meet the Press meant to foment outrage over an anti-abortion rights law in some backward red state.

The Washington Post has not published original reporting on this during the trial andThe New York Times saw fit to run one original story on A-17 on the trial’s first day. They’ve been silent ever since, despite headline-worthy testimony.

As Kirstin Powers puts it, it only took Rush Limbaugh to attack Sandra Fluke for women’s groups and the media to work into a frenzy, but the late term abortions of viable infants has been met with media silence. “The deafening silence of too much of the media, once a force for justice in America, is a disgrace.”


Publius Online is participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, a month-long quest to post every day (I know…I’ve missed a few days). Each day should match a letter of the alphabet. Today is the letter M, as in Murder.

 


 

 

So this is Christmas…

It’s Christmas. With several versions of John Lennon’s “So this is Christmas” playing on the airwaves and in retail establishments across America,  it’s a bittersweet reminder that while we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we have not as a nation, or as practicing Christians, yet learned his message and how to apply it.

Indeed, this has not been a peaceful year. Looking at the global state of things, conflicts, some decades in age, there are at least twelve ongoing conflicts that have resulted in deaths in 2012 (according to a Wikipedia page called “List of ongoing military conflicts”), including the war in Afghanistan that killed at least 03,000 in 2012, the Syrian civil war with 37,787 deaths, and one in Burma that started in 1948 and resulted in 10,000 fatalities (bet you missed that one on the nightly news round up).  And, lest we forget, there are still American troops in Iraq, too, where over 8,000 people have died in the last two years.

If war was not enough, we’re still killing each other, too, in our own cities. The United States has a homicide rate of about 4.2 per 100,000 residents, which, while lower than the worldwide average, still resulted in the deaths of about 13,000 people last year.  And this does not account for other violent crimes: rape, assault, abuse, and so on.

Taken all together, it’s a depressing prospect. And when seen in light of the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut this month, it is perhaps more sobering and dispiriting, too.

I cannot help but ask: what can we do against such evil?

It can be easy to see the power of evil in the world in the face of such events. Indeed, it can be hard to see anything but evil in the deaths of so many innocent people. Youth is a time of hope and promise, and schools are intended to be a place of sanctuary and learning.

Yet, we look to hope. Some of the most beloved writers of the English language made it a theme of their writing, and as we heard the news of the deaths at Sandy Hook elementary, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit in movie theaters. If there is nothing else that Tolkien intended with his most innovative creations–hobbits–it was to convey the possibility of hope and life and innocence against the power of evil.

Indeed, it is not just hobbits and their love of the creature comforts of home, food, and books that Tolkien wrote of, but also the nature of evil and its corruption of the good.  Glenn Fairman, in his piece “Hobbits, Orcs, and the Human Condition” for the American Thinker posits that this is why Tolkien strike home for readers (and perhaps movie goers): “The universes of Tolkien and [C.S.] Lewis touch a spot in our hearts, not because of a one-dimensional black and white depiction of Good and Evil, but because they ring true in excavating the subtlety of what drives evil. Evil is not deemed co-equal with Good, [...] but as a corrupted end which once sought the Good.”

Through our “fairy tales,” then, runs the theme of free will and the necessity of free will to the growth of good, even in the potential for pain and death. Says Fairman

But free will or a future redemption is thin gruel to a town with classrooms full of murdered children. Is it enough to say that God did not will this thing and that despite the glib horror of the words, ripples of good are projecting out in time so that as a consequence at least some of this evil might one day be redeemed? Unlike our stories of Middle Earth, there was no convocation of Eagles to spirit those innocents away from a cruel and insane hand. Nevertheless, we are hearing now of unlikely heroes and sacrifices in the face of certain death by some who did not come home.It is in our finite reckoning of time that patience exhausts itself and oftentimes our endurance is drawn down as we despair of evil’s resolute gravity. Faced with suffering and evil occurring at an ever-accelerating cadence, it may be easier to believe that we are alone in our sorrows instead of exerting faith that a Deft Hand holds the reins. Sometimes it seems as if the free will of a broken humanity is insufficient when weighed in the balance against our cruelties. But without free will there is no love; and without love there is no impetus for a God of Love to create.

It is too early to tell, perhaps even in this lifetime, how these events will have weighted the waves of contingency and their significance for those perhaps not yet born. It is not a cliché to hold that courage and faith are needed now more than ever. They were indispensable in an age of Hobbits, elves and dwarves; how much more so in a tangible world of fragile men.

Often, we may feel as Frodo, who in the darkness of the Mines of Moria lamented, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.”

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “And so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Our hearts go out to those in Newport whose lives have been altered forever and whose loved ones will never come home, at least not in this life, and we hope that even in the dark moments that they will find solace and hope in courage and faith. To the rest of us, I hope that we can provide to them, and each other, the small comfort we can offer. And perhaps, here again, we can listen to Gandalf, the sage wizard of Tolkien’s creation:

There are those who believe that  “it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

Again, this is Christmas, and it is the Prince of Peace that was heralded on this day.  Angels sang of “peace on earth, goodwill to men” at his coming and as He neared the end of His life He returned to the refrain: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

His peace is the power to stand against evil and be unmoved in a time when evil will rage, to stand at the eye of a storm and feel peace while defending and seeking to live the message for which His life was nothing short of a living testimony.

None of us want to live in such times, but in such times we all retain the power to choose. It is in the small deeds of ordinary kindness that keep the darkness at bay.  As the children’s song goes, “so I say to myself, remember this: kindness begins with me.”  Imperfectly applied, perhaps, but it is a lesson we can all seek to apply just a little better in the coming year. If we do, perhaps then each of us will find a way to bring peace, and good will to men, to the Earth.

As we all mourn the lost, at Sandy Hook and in many other places, I hope that we can realize that we are not powerless against great evil, but that it is in our every day acts that evil can be held back.

When ex-boyfriends go bad: the “bear did it” edition.

This is NOT Clyde...or the bear.

It’s said that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”

So what is it when a man is scorned?

Dumb, if the following news report is in any way correct. Dumb, drunk, and murderous.

Clyde Gardner, kicked out by his girlfriend after 5 years, a child, and various allegations of abuse, decided to take revenge by taking his former flame’s life. Enter the “the bear did it” ruse:

The original murder plot was for Gardner to hunt down a bear on the man’s property then skin it to take off its four claws and its pelt.

The hired killer was to put the pelt on like a suit and wear the paws like boots and gloves, then maul the woman to death to make it look like an animal had killed her.

“He’d been watching her from the woods, so he knew exactly when she would take her garbage out, so it was supposed to look like she got mauled by a bear,” Crawford said.

“The claws were to be worn as boots and on his hands so there would be only bear tracks, no human tracks.

“But (the hit man) said he only had three acres to hunt on and no bears,” she said.

Did you catch that? No only was he actually going to kill her with and while wearing a bear pelt (the claws worn as boots and gloves), he had recruited a hit man who didn’t have a bear to start with. That was just plan A.

His excuse is that he was drunk when he suggested killing his ex-girlfriend and was on his way over to the hitman’s house to call off the whole thing. Riiiiiggghhttt….

Needless to say, Clyde was caught and convicted of second degree conspiracy. Catch the story here and funny write-up at Lowering the Bar.

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When truth is stranger than fiction: a revenge plot foiled

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Or at least would make good fiction.

Straight from the pages of the New York Times comes this story about rape, revenge, conspiracy, mistaken identity, and an innocent wrongly accused. It’s definitely good enough for an episode of Castle, if not for one of Dick Wolfe’s many iterations of  Law and Order.

It started when Seemona Sumasar, a young restaurant owner in New York, met Jerry Ramrattan in her restaurant. He said he was a police detective, and they hit it off, began dating, and soon he moved into her place. However, from there the relationship went south. Seemona asked him to move out. Not only would he not, but she claims that he one day cornered her, duck taped her mouth shut, and raped her.

Then it gets weird. After she accused him of rape, and he released on bond, Ramrattan began to get his revenge, sending friends to intimidate her. Not only that, they threatened that he would see her put in jail in his place.

It worked.

One night, Ms. Sumasar was pulled over by the police. Before she could speak, detectives slapped handcuffs on her. “You know you did it,” she said one later shouted at her. “Just admit it.”

Just like that, and suddenly Seemona was a criminal.

Booked on charges of armed robbery, police arrested her “based on what the police said was a wealth of evidence, including credible witness statements and proof that her car was the getaway vehicle.” With bail set at $1 million, the plot would not unravel until just before Sumasar was supposed to go to trial in December of 2010 when a fake witness  finally confessed to the police.

The key to his scheme, prosecutors [of Ramrattan] said, was to spread fake clues over time, fooling police into believing that all the evidence pointed to Ms. Sumasar.

They said he coached the supposed victims, driving them past Ms. Sumasar’s house so that they could describe her Jeep Grand Cherokee and showing them her photo so they could pick her out of a police lineup.

The setup began in September 2009, prosecutors said. An illegal immigrant from Trinidad told the police that he had been handcuffed and robbed of $700 by an Indian woman who was disguised as a police officer and had a gun, according to court documents.

Prosecutors said Mr. Ramrattan had persuaded the immigrant to lie, telling him that he could receive a special visa for victims of violent crimes.

Six months later, another man said he had been robbed in Nassau County by two police impersonators and described the main aggressor as an Indian woman about Ms. Sumasar’s height. The man said he had managed to take down the first three letters of the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s New York license plate — AJD.

The final fake crime was conjured in May 2010, officials said, when an acquaintance of Mr. Ramrattan said she had been held up by a couple posing as police officers. She said they were driving a Grand Cherokee, but she gave a full Florida license plate number.

She said she heard the pair call each other by name — “Seem” and “Elvis.” Elvis was the nickname of another former boyfriend of Ms. Sumasar, who owned the Jeep.

When the police looked into the Florida plate number, they found that the day after the purported March robbery, the title and the plate for the Cherokee had been transferred from Elvis to Ms. Sumasar’s sister in Florida.

Ms. Sumasar, who holds a Florida driver’s license, had driven the car to Florida to register it. To the police, she seemed to be covering her tracks.

 If “[h]ell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” then I don’ t know what you would say about Ramrattan. As a result of his insidious revenge, Seemona has changed her number, uses credit cards instead of cash to provide a papertrail to back her up, and checks with New York State’s Rikers Prison web site each day to assure that Ramrattan has not been released. If Ramrattan’s plot has failed and backfired, he’s still managed to extract a revenge that will continue to haunt Seemona down the road.

Worse, I don’t know what you could say about law enforcement in this case, either. Not only did they get the wrong guy, but they let a ‘Law and Order’ junkie manipulate them into arresting the victim at the perp’s behest. That’s worse than justice blind justice–that’s incompetent justice.

Find the story at “A Revenge Plot So Intricate, the Prosecutors were Pawns” in the New York Times.

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Smart: ‘I know that you know what you did was wrong’ | The Salt Lake Tribune

Brian David Mitchell has been sentenced to life.

“I don’t have very much to say to you,” [Elizabeth Smart] said as Mitchell sat with his eyes closed, hands clasped and singing softly. “I know exactly what you did. I know that you know what you did was wrong. You did it with a full knowledge. I also want you to know that I have a wonderful life now, that no matter what you do, it will not affect me again. You took away nine months of my life that can never be returned, but in this life or next, you will have to be held responsible for those actions, and I hope you are ready for when that time comes.”

via Smart: ‘I know that you know what you did was wrong’ | The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Tweets aside, should Utah’s attorney general be appointed?

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General, is the first in Utah history to be elected to three terms.

Should the attorney general be appointed by the chief executive of the state? Or should states continue to elect their lead legal adviser and prosecutor?

Utah, along with forty-three other states, elects the state’s attorney general in a general election along side other statewide offices, such as governor, lieutenant governor, and so on. The attorney general’s job, according to the office’s site, is to “enforce the law, provide counsel to state agencies and public officials, to work with law enforcement and protect the interests of Utah, its people, environment and resources.”

Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General

Utah’s current attorney general is Mark Shurtleff, first elected in 2000 and later reelected in 2004 and 2008, the first AG in Utah history to receive three terms. Each time, he has been reelected by large margins, walking away with about 69% of the vote in 2008.

Despite this level of popularity, though, Shurtleff has not won everyone’s friendship. Further, his willingness to take campaign contributions from groups that were in the midst of prosecution has raised questions about his objectivity.

One example of this was reported in the Salt Lake City Weekly story “Called Into Question.”  A call center that pushed questionable real estate products, Mentoring for America (or MOA) was investigated and cited between 2004 and 2007 for because it “promised unrealistic guarantees to customers, sold them programs they couldn’t use and otherwise conducted deceptive trade practices.” In 2008, it was under investigation, again.

Around the same time, Shurtleff received $20,000 in donations to his campaign. According to City Weekly:

 …on Jan. 16, 2008, almost a month after it received its most recent charges from the state, MOA contributed $20,000 to Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s 2008 re-election campaign. Three months after the charges were dropped by the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, Shurtleff would bank another $10,000 from the company, according to MOA’s PAC report.

In total, the Shurtleff campaign received $187,000 in donations from seven Utah call centers in 2008, six of which were under investigation by the Division of Consumer Protection. The litany of complaints against MOA, and the slap on the hand that it received, is heartbreaking.

When asked about the conflict of interest created by receiving donations from people and companies that are under investigation, Shurtleff was frank and honest: it’s complicated and it’s burdensome.

He said starting to draw lines among legal donors might create a need to do background checks on all donors. “I couldn’t take money from individuals without a background check,” he said.

Shurtleff also said that he’s never had a problem prosecuting donors.

“I have prosecuted and sued companies that have given me money,” he said. “Despite all the innuendo and rumors … there has never been and never will be a documented case of pay-to-play, tit-for-tat” favors for contributions.

The Idea: Appoint the Attorney General 

Regardless of Shurtleff’s intent, it has raised the question about whether the office should stay elective or whether it should be made appointive.  Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart of St. George recently floated the idea that–to allow the attorney general to avoid the appearance of impropriety due to campaign donations–the position should be appointed by the governor, similar to how the President appoints the U.S. Attorney General.

Not only would the state attorney general be free from the need to collect campaign donations, but would also work in closer cooperation with the Governor in setting priorities.

The feds do it and it seems to make sense,” Urquhart said in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune.

“I also think it’s much cleaner if the guy making prosecutorial decisions isn’t out soliciting money from people who could be impacted by those decisions,” Urquhart said.

The flaw in the idea, as Shurtleff quickly pointed out, is that the attorney general needs to be a check on the executive branch, as well. By limiting the attorney general’s independence–making it responsive to the governor and the legislature instead of voters–changes the nature of the prosecutor’s office to little more than corporate counsel to the Governor.

“If there’s any misdeed or malfeasance in the executive branch then I’m responsible to the people to take action,” Shurtleff said.

Public Policy? Or a Grudge?

If this were just a policy discussion, then Sen. Urquhart would have had the legislative office attorneys look at it, he’d propose a constitutional amendment (which is what the change would require), and the state legislature would have voted on it next year.

But it’s not just a policy discussion. Apparently Steve and Mark don’t get along very well. The attorney general went ad hominem  and attributed Sen. Urquhart’s suggestion to personal ambition, not public policy.

“We know he has an interest in this job,” Shurtleff said, adding Urquhart’s only hope would be through an appointment. “I think he can’t get elected statewide.”

Never one to miss an opportunity, Sen. Urquhart had some fun with Shurtleff’s snark.

http://twitter.com/SenatorSteveU/statuses/58282279742603265

When @hollyonthehill called his bluff, asking for a picture, Urquhart folded, making a jab at Shurtleff’s accidental tweet of 2009 announcing his intention to run for the US Senate.

http://twitter.com/SenatorSteveU/status/58284190269059072

http://twitter.com/SenatorSteveU/statuses/58283191152283648

___________

Jabs and accidental tweets aside, the question remains: should the attorney general be an independent elected official or should he, as in the federal system, be appointed?

Elected or Appointed, the Attorney General Should Be Impartial

Both options have merits that merit consideration and with the race to replace Mark Shurtleff kicking off this year, voters should closely examine the candidates for their willingness to maintain not only independence, but impartiality. Candidates for attorney general should be asked who their donors are and how they will be independent from influence by those donors.

While Shurtleff is correct to note that statewide races are expensive, it is also notable that he has won each race, including his first election, by margins more than 20 percent higher than his Democratic opponents. It’s hard to justify taking money from questionable donors when clearly there is not a need for it.

Further, the chief prosecutor should be above suspicion. Taking so much money from questionable donors should result in concerns by voters about the ability of the attorney general to exercise prosecutorial discretion in voters’ interests, not his own. Whether Shurtleff acts with impartiality or not becomes a moot point when so much money is accepted from so many parties that should be receiving the full inspection of the state’s chief prosecutor.

For more in the press on this issue, see also: