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Tight race expected for district attorney job

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 11:17 a.m. MDT

Sim Gill () Sim Gill ()

SALT LAKE CITY — The race for Salt Lake County district attorney looks a lot like the race four years ago. But a few things have changed, and there are some late-breaking developments.

Incumbent Lohra Miller and challenger Sim Gill are squaring off for the second time in what promises to be a tight race to the finish.

Miller now has four years in the role under her belt; Gill has plenty of questions about the incumbent's record in office.

A Deseret News/KSL-TV Dan Jones poll from 2006 had Miller besting Gill 41 percent to 38 percent just before Election Day, when she edged Gill with a 3 percent margin of the vote.

The roles have reversed this year, with the most recent poll favoring Gill 49 percent to Miller's 39 percent. The spread in both polls, though, fell within the margin of error. The most recent poll was conducted Oct. 25-28 and has a margin of error of 4.8 percent.

Lohra Miller () Lohra Miller ()

With 7 percent of active registered voters still undecided, according to results of the 451 respondents in poll results released Friday, Miller is hoping to regain ground now that electioneering accusations have been cleared. On Tuesday, the county released results from its investigation finding accusations Miller's campaign used county time and resources were "not substantive and did not warrant further action."

Miller called the accusations "a nasty, last-minute campaign tactic that was orchestrated by my opponent" and hopes voters will recognize it as such.

Based on the most recent numbers and the undecided voters in the mix, the race promises to be one of the tightest and more dramatic in the state this election year.

Both claim to have the experience and qualifications for the position. Miller points to the past four years, navigating the office through the ongoing recession.

"I not only have the experiences in managing the budget and leading the prosecution, but I have the civil experience working with the councils and mayors' offices and representing all the independent elective," Miller said. "I've been very successful in establishing the district attorney's office as a recognized, trusted source of legal information for the county, which it hasn't always been."

Gill, who is currently serving as the chief prosecutor for Salt Lake City, said he has a combination of practical, management and program-implementation experience. He has prosecuted both misdemeanor and felony cases and helped develop the state's first mental-health court.

But Gill said the main reason for taking a second run at Miller is restoring public trust in the chief prosecutor for the county. "Ms. Miller has created a record that calls into question the integrity and honor of that office," he said. "In the past few years there have been issues and questions that have that office being called into question."

Miller said it's easy to stand on the outside and criticize. She said she does the best she can with what she's given.

"Being district attorney is about making tough decisions based on the information available to you," she said. "I would expect that someone you elected as district attorney would examine facts and just base their decision on those facts and not focus on headlines."

But Gill said a review of the headlines Miller has generated during her tenure "speak for themselves." He said part of what motivated him to run again was the comments from various people who didn't vote for him in 2006 and wished they had.

"There is an understanding in the community that something is wrong at the district attorney's office," Gill said.

He cited some of what he sees as major blunders committed by Miller, including her firing of veteran prosecutor Kent Morgan under allegations that he leaked information to an owner of an illegal escort service that was under investigation by the office.

Morgan appealed the dismissal and won, but was then demoted. After appealing that action and again winning, he filed an intent to sue the office. Though it ended in a settlement, Gill said in total, almost half a million dollars were "wasted."

"Not to mention the 768 hours billed by Salt Lake County in pursuance of the case," he said. "Every taxpayer should be appalled by the fiscal mismanagement."

Miller defends the decision, though. She said she found evidence that Morgan went out of his way to get information to the "pimp" who was under investigation.

"That kind of conduct, to me, indicated a prosecutor who at the minimum did not have the ethics our community would expect," she said. "I made the decision that he did not represent our office in a manner that I felt we needed to be represented. … That was the right decision."

As for their visions for the future, Miller and Gill both want to address domestic violence. Miller spoke of her special team of prosecutors assigned to handle domestic violence cases.

"Watching them actually make a difference has been amazing," she said. "In learning to recognize the unique issues in these kinds of cases has made prosecutors more successful."

Gill said he would focus less on the actual prosecution of domestic violence cases and more on aiding the victims of those who are being prosecuted. He wants to create a system where prosecutors, counselors, employment and housing specialists and others would be available to domestic violence victims.

"If I get a conviction, I feel good about it, but what did I win? I got a statistic, but I didn't solve anything," he said. "We need to help victims feel safe and secure so they can break out of this cycle."

Both candidates also stressed effective coordination with local law enforcement and city governments. Miller said the justice system can be inefficient and ineffective, so she started a working group including police investigators, attorneys, judges and parole agents to look at improvements.

"We agreed on common ideas we want to incorporate into this new system we've been creating," she said. "We're scheduled to begin implementation on Jan. 1."

Gill said he plans to have prosecutors assigned to specific communities, ideally the ones in which they live. They will work closely with law enforcement and municipal government to address the specific needs of the individual communities within the county.

Gill has been endorsed by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon and both the Unified Police Federation and the Salt Lake Police Association. Miller has endorsements from Gov. Gary Herbert, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman.

Both candidates received endorsements from the Fraternal Order of Police, which counts 2,000 Salt Lake County police officers as members.

e-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

Sim Gill, Democrat

Family: Married, two children

Education: Bachelor's degree from the University of Utah, where he played football from 1981-83; law degree from Lewis and Clark College

Political experience: Ran for Salt Lake County district attorney in 2006

Professional experience: Chief prosecutor for Salt Lake City; prosecutor for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, Salt Lake City and Layton. He worked on the development of a number of programs, including the state's mental health court and the Salt Lake City domestic violence court. He currently serves as chairman of the Salt Lake area Safe at Home Coalition and as co-chairman of the State Mental Health Task Force.

Lohra Miller, Republican

Family: Married, four children

Education: Bachelor's and law degrees from Brigham Young University

Political experience: Salt Lake County district attorney since 2006

Professional experience: Salt Lake County district attorney; city attorney for West Valley City and other cities since 1992. She is vice president of the National District Attorney's Association and serves on the Governor's Gang Task Force.

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