When former Salt Lake County Attorney Ted Cannon went to jail on charges of misconduct, John Preston Creer's phone rang off the hook.
Numerous calls and letters cheered Cannon's predicament as revenge for his prosecution of Creer several years earlier for mishandling political campaign funds, which ironically put Creer behind bars for the same amount of time and in the same place - Coalville - Cannon would go.But Creer, somewhat taken back by the response, didn't share his supporters' views. "I wrote Ted a letter telling him I hoped he could pull through it. And he wrote me back and thanked me," Creer said.
Resisting revenge has helped the 56-year-old attorney and former promising politician survive the 1980s.
The decade began with allegations that Creer had pocketed Utah Power & Light Co. political campaign contributions. Under pressure from the county attorney's pursuit of felony theft charges and accompanying media coverage, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of breaching fiduciary duties and served a 30-day jail sentence.
Suspended from practicing law following his guilty plea, Creer came home from jail and started 1982 out of work, a situation he endured for almost two years. Furthermore, the public, with the Creer saga burned into its memory by intense media coverage, couldn't forget. Accusing and pitying stares followed him wherever he went, and his family suffered rejection.
"A lot of people told me I needed to speak out (in revenge), but I knew if I did I would only poison my own soul," Creer said. "I couldn't carry that luggage too or I wouldn't have made it."
Creer, 56, has finally made it back. Almost. He has been reinstated to the Utah Bar and is litigating as well as helping his family run a frozen yogurt business. But he continues to dig out of financial obligations that mounted when he was unemployed.
"I made a mistake and I have paid dearly for it," Creer said.
The highest price was enduring the exhaustive media coverage of the event. "The media experience was the worst because one cannot live on the evening news and the front pages of the newspapers every day without it taking a tremendous toll. It's devastating."
Like others who have undergone similar ordeals, Creer, an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, realized what was most important in his life. "I returned to the rock bed of my belief in God and devotion to my family. All my priorities in life changed."
Twenty-five years ago, the media had tagged the young idealistic Democrat as "a political David," eager to make a name in Utah politics and public service. "I was a political yuppie with goals and aspirations that were somewhat worldly and self-aggrandizing," Creer recalls.
He served a short stint as an appointed Salt Lake County commissioner. The young turk spoke out against the cronyism and unprofessionalism of county government. He further shook up the establishment by breaking political protocol and running against his senior Democratic colleague for the four-year seat instead of waiting his turn and running for another two-year term.
Creer lost that bid, followed by a narrow defeat in the 1968 attorney general race and then finally losing the hotly contested 1976 Democratic nomination for governor to Scott Matheson.
Because of family considerations, he turned down an offer to run against Republican Sherman Lloyd in 1970 for a U.S. House seat, in a contest many believed Creer would have won. "Maybe in hindsight that wasn't such a good decision. It could have given me that one victory, and I did pick up some barnacles that hurt me when I ran for governor," he said, noting some Democrats felt he abandoned the party by not agreeing to run.
Creer said it is tough to be a Democrat today and remain true to his religious beliefs. Since the mid-1970s the party has adopted high profile causes, such as abortion, equal rights and gay rights, which he feels have diluted its tradition of representing the masses and disadvantaged.
But that doesn't mean he will leave the party his grandfather James H. Moyle helped establish in Utah. Some people say he even looks like a Democrat, referring to his uncanny resemblance to Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
"I will always be a Democrat, but I can only go just so far with them."