The mother of several possible child sexual abuse victims says she's disappointed and concerned that the state's lead prosecutor in the sensational Lehi sex abuse case may be leaving the Utah attorney general's office for greener pastures.
Robert N. Parrish, the last remaining child sex abuse expert in that office, says he may be forced to leave because of low wages."It's disappointing that he might be leaving at a time when things are critical," said the mother, who has worked closely with Parrish for several years. "He's the only person I know who has this much expertise. He's good with the kids; the kids trust him - and he's going to be gone."
According to the mother, Parrish has studied and focused on the "bizarre child sex abuse cases."
"Just as we are getting him up to snuff to handle one of the strangest cases in the state, he's thinking of leaving."
Parrish said he doesn't want to leave but feels compelled to shop around for new employment.
"My feeling is that I want to stay here and do this job; there is nothing else I want to do as much," Parrish said. "If I leave, I will feel that I have been forced out by legislative inaction and inattention to this office. We have asked for money every year (for merit increases) but have gotten zero. Yet my job has tripled in responsibility.
"I resent being forced out of a job that I really want to do by their lack of concern. They caused the problem."
Parrish's probable departure, likely after the first of the year, will leave 15-20 active child sexual abuse cases in the state in limbo, and according to Attorney General David Wilkinson, "the number continues to grow almost weekly."
The Salt Lake County attorney's office recently lost two of its expert prosecutors in the area of child sex abuse as well. Leslie Lewis resigned to join a corporate law firm in Salt Lake City, and Karen Knight-Egan left for a year to teach at the University of Utah College of Law.
But County Attorney David Yocom said he still has a strong child sex abuse team, and the departure of the two employees won't create a great void in that type of prosecution.
That same confidence doesn't prevail at the state level.
"In our office, he (Parrish) is the expert in child sexual abuse cases. He has a vast wealth of expertise in this area and clearly is the backbone of this effort in this office," said Associate Deputy Attorney General Paul Warner. "If we lose Rob, we are going to have to build all over again. This is a relatively new and technical area for prosecutors, and there are many areas in the state where our expertise has been asked for and has been needed."
The attorney general's office has had more than two dozen requests for intervention in child sex abuse investigations since Lehi child abuser Allan B. Hadfield was prosecuted last December. The requests have come from county attorney's offices, police agencies frustrated with the lack of prosecution efforts in cases they have investigated, and parents of alleged victims, said Warner.
Many have expressed concern that the attorney general's office has had a 25 percent turnover in lawyers in the past three years. They point to freezes on merit and cost-of-living increases for state employees as the major problem.
Last year, David Schwendiman, another expert in child sex abuse prosecution, left the Utah attorney general's office for a higher-paying job in the U.S. attorney's office.
Parrish makes less than $40,000 a year - a salary Warner deems ridiculous considering the attorney's responsibility.
Parrish, an eight-year veteran of the attorney general's office, was the chief prosecutor in the controversial child sexual abuse investigation in Lehi that led to the conviction of Hadfield last year. That conviction is expected to be appealed.
Meanwhile, investigation into other child sex abuse cases in Lehi is continuing, with prosecutors hoping to decide whether or not to prosecute by September.
Parrish hopes to hang on until February when the Legislature has had time to again review budget of the attorney general's office. For parents of alleged victims, this has mildly softened the blow of news that Parrish may leave his current post.
Warner doesn't blame him for thinking of packing up shop. "For someone of his ability and skill, what we have to pay him is unfortunate," he said. "He deserves and can get better. This isn't a disgruntled employee who wants to leave his job. This is a man who has four kids, a mortgage on his back and needs more money."
And Warner said his hands are tied. "People are similarly situated in other places in the office, and it would be unfair to give Rob a merit increase and not to everyone else."