Utah County to Create A Prosecutor Watchdog Group
Following a handful of local cases that raised concerns about prosecutorial overreach, the Utah County Commission has decided to create a committee that will look into prosecutorial misconduct.
“I don’t want to limit what prosecutors should be doing,” Commission Chairman Bill Lee said. “But it’s important to me that the public also has trust in our legal system as well.”
The County Commission passed a resolution last month affirming its intent to create the committee by the end of 2017. It would be called the Utah County Restorative Justice Commission and would report any allegation of prosecutorial misconduct to the County Commission, which would then refer those reports to another law enforcement agency, most likely the Utah Attorney General’s Office.
Lee said he heard from a wide range of people who convinced him that the committee was necessary.
“I had conversations with multiple groups of people who are concerned, and they brought forth allegations, which I don’t know if they are true or not,” Lee said. “I don’t have a legal background, so I’m not going to review cases myself.”
Lee said he wanted the committee members to have wide range of expertise, and possibly include former judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and non-lawyers. The details about exactly how appointments will be made to the commission are still being worked out.
Connor Boyack, president of Libertas Institute, a libertarian think tank, has been a vocal supporter of creating the committee. As the Daily Heraldreported in May, Boyack appeared before the County Commission and said that the goal of the committee “would be to ensure that, if someone was a victim of prosecutorial misconduct, that they would be ‘made whole,’ including reimbursement for costs such as defense fees.”
As In Justice Today previously reported, former Provo City Councilman Steve Turley was charged in 2011 on multiple counts of fraud involving real estate deals. While those charges were pending, prosecutors from the Utah County listened in on conversations Turley had with his attorneys.
All charges against Turley were eventually dropped, and Turley subsequently filed a civil lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution and ethical misconduct by Utah County Attorney’s Office.
Turley was one of the people who urged the commissioners to create the Utah County Restorative Justice Commission.
Another high profile case involved Conrad Truman, who was ultimately exonerated after serving four years in prison for the 2012 murder of his wife, Heidy Truman.
Truman was originally convicted and sentenced in 2014 for first-degree murder and obstruction of justice. But those convictions were overturned in 2016 after it was ruled that misleading evidence was presented at his first trial.
The evidence in question involved inaccurate measurements of the Truman home. Defense lawyers argued that correct measurements of the home increased the possibility that Heidy Truman died of a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head, rather than having been murdered.
Truman was acquitted in a second trial in February 2017.
Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman, who has been criticized for the Turley and Truman cases, said his office would work with the new commission.
“This is done with us,” Buhman said. “This is not the commission independent of the county attorney, this is us working together.”