Salt Lake County Commissioner Dave Watson was formally charged Tuesday with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.
According to documents filed with South Salt Lake Justice of the Peace George H. Searle, Watson was arrested early Sunday morning at 2108 S. State and an Intoxilyzer test later determined Watson's blood-alcohol level to exceed the state's legal limit of .08.Searle said Watson or his attorney has 10 days to enter a plea.
Meanwhile, Democratic Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom said Tuesday his office will not prosecute possible drug charges against Watson, also a Democrat.
Under Utah law, the drunken driving charge, a misdemeanor, is prosecuted by the city prosecutor. But a possession of cocaine charge, if filed, would have to be prosecuted by the county attorney's office because it is a felony.
To avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, Yocom said he will seek an outside prosecutor.
"I've talked to several special prosecutors already, but I'm not willing to mention any names yet," said Yocom.
However, South Salt Lake City prosecutor Clinton Balmforth, who will handle the city's prosecution of the drunken driving charge, said Yocom has asked him to prosecute the drug charges, if they are filed.
Balmforth, however, said he has a heavy caseload from his city work and isn't sure if he'll accept Yocom's request.
Yocom said he is allowed by statute to appoint a special prosecutor from either another county attorney's office or from private practice.
Yocom said he wishes to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest that might arise out of his office's prosecution of Watson, who votes each year on the county attorney's office budget and is a Democrat like Yocom.
"I've got career prosecutors in my office who wouldn't be affected (by politics), but they would always come to me for any final plea negotiations."
In a related development, Democratic party leaders say Watson - and only Watson - will decide if he continues his re-election bid.
But if he drops out - and many believe he now has no chance of beating Republican Tom Shimizu - party leaders believe they won't be left with B.T. Price as their only candidate.
Many interpret Utah's restrictive candidate law to mean that Price, the only other Democrat to file for the two-year commission spot, would be the only Democrat left. Price, who calls himself the mayor of west Second South, is unacceptable to mainstream Democrats.
But Watson could be certified as mentally disabled, and thus be legally replaced in the race.
County Democratic leaders are reluctant to talk about Watson's options, since they have had only preliminary meetings with him.
Regardless of whether Watson is charged with cocaine possession or not, most political experts believe Watson can't seek re-election this year. He would lose, perhaps damaging other Democratic candidates in the painful process.
County Democratic Treasurer Frank Pignanelli, who is also an attorney, said Monday that he and other county officials are studying the state's election law to find a way to replace Watson in the race.
The law is very restrictive concerning candidate replacement. The only reasons a candidate can be replaced are death, physical or mental disability, or a mistake in filing.
A different part of the code says a candidate must also be a resident in the jurisdiction in which he is running.
Given the strict law, Democrats seem to have only two ways to replace Watson:
-He could be nominated by Saturday's Salt Lake County Democratic Convention as the party's choice and then move out of the county, violating the residency requirement.
-Or he could get a medical doctor to certify that he is suffering from a mental disability that won't allow him to run. Pignanelli believes that by using the mental-disability option, Watson could be replaced before Saturday's convention or after he is the official nominee.
"We will follow the letter of the law," Pignanelli promised. "Hey, we have a real problem here (with the law), but we believe we do have some options should Dave decide not to continue his candidacy."
The most recent example of a special prosecutor being appointed was in the case of the last Salt Lake County grand jury. Because the grand jury investigated the county attorney's office and the attorney general's office, those offices were disqualified from prosecuting any indictments handed up by the grand jury.