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Lawyer: Disqualify Utah County prosecutors from drug case

Published: Sunday, Nov. 7 2010 9:51 p.m. MST

PROVO — The lawyer for a man facing drug charges is seeking to disqualify the Utah County attorney's office from prosecuting his client over claims that the defendant won't be treated fairly.

At the center of the allegation is a so-called wall of shame at the county attorney's office that shows mug shots of defendants who won't get a plea bargain because prosecutors say they should already be in prison.

The pyramid of photos was once topped by Osama bin Laden, but he was demoted to a lower spot after one defendant complained about being compared to the al-Qaida leader.

The public defender for Tracy Valdez, who recently shared the top spot with bin Laden, now claims the change makes his client worse than bin Laden.

Richard Gale also said the wall of defendants in county attorney Jeffrey R. Buhman's office is inappropriate and can be seen by judges, lawyers, and probation and parole agents.

The list is known as the PNG list — for "persona non grata" — and according to the county prosecutors' website, it's for defendants who "should have already gone to prison but keep getting off of their charges or getting sentences that are too light with regard to their criminal history."

Gale said Valdez was stopped on his bicycle in Provo and found in possession of a few milligrams of methamphetamine. The charge was enhanced to a first-degree felony because Valdez had prior offenses and was biking through a drug-free zone, he said.

Valdez is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 18 but is willing to plead guilty to a second-degree felony, Gale said.

"Presumably, if Osama bin Laden were charged with a crime in Utah County, he would receive more lenient consideration than Valdez since he is below Valdez in the 'persona non grata' pyramid," Gale wrote in a court motion seeking to disqualify the prosecutors.

Utah County prosecutor Sam Pead responded in court papers by saying Valdez has been fairly treated and isn't owed an explanation for his placement on the list.

"No defendant is entitled to a plea offer, nor can any defendant make a claim of a right to a plea offer," Pead wrote.

Pead also told the Daily Herald of Provo that the list isn't illegal or improper, and is for the information of prosecutors only.

The county's website says in keeping the list, prosecutors "are careful to only place someone on our PNG list who has earned that distinction through a long track record of breaking the law. Once we place someone on our PNG list, we severely limit their cases' plea bargaining and the assigned prosecutor puts their cases right on a trial track."

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