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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
In mid-December, incoming Utah County Attorney Jeff Buhman talks with his wife, Camille, left, while Sarah and Madeline do their homework.

PROVO — Jeff Buhman's New Year's resolutions aren't about weight loss or exercise plans.

Instead, come Tuesday, the man who defeated his boss, the longtime incumbent, to become Utah County attorney, wants to re-energize the office of attorneys who prosecute crime cases on behalf of the people in the county.

Buhman will be sworn in as the county's top legal adviser, bringing to the table more than a decade of courtroom experience and an optimistic to-do list for strengthening and improving relationships both in and out of the office.

"I never saw myself here 10 years doing the same thing," Buhman said, referring to his years as a deputy to Republican Kay Bryson, who was county attorney for four terms. "But I've definitely enjoyed prosecution. I'm not doing it because there's nothing else to do. I'm doing it because it's a good job."

Buhman, a California native, arrived at Brigham Young University in 1984 to earn an undergraduate degree in economics and returned for four years of law school after serving a mission for the LDS Church in Mexico City.

Law school changed his life in more than a few ways.

On the first day of law school — and during his first class — he met a fellow student, Camille Waldron. The two became friends as they studied together, and by the end of the first year they were engaged. They were married the following summer.

Now, four children and two pets later — children Madeline, 11; Emma, 9; Sarah, 7; and Isaac, 4; the beagle, Charlie and a calico cat, Nellie — the Buhmans are stepping into the new, very public role with excitement.

"It's a great opportunity for us to serve," said Camille Buhman, a full-time mom. "It's a slightly more public role, but we're excited for the chance to serve. This is my home, it's where I want to contribute. He was there for me, it's really easy to be there for him."

The Buhmans both practiced law in Seattle after they graduated from BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School in 1993.

Returning to Utah in 1995, Jeff Buhman took the Utah State Bar and worked in a private law firm before joining the Washington County Attorney's Office.

In 1997, he was hired at the Utah County Attorney's Office where he's been since. To the surprise of many, Buhman beat Bryson — whose very public divorce made headlines in the previous year — during the Republican convention with a resounding 69 percent of the vote.

The win at convention was essentially entrance into elected office. Buhman ran uncontested in the November general election.

"I think the office has lacked direction for a long time," Buhman said. "There's really no direction what to do with the cases."

Buhman said he's going into office with firm, reachable goals — reasons he ran for the office in the first place — but wants to talk with everyone in the office to establish ways to reach those goals.

He wants to revive and strengthen relationships with police departments and officers, foster greater communication with the community so residents know what attorneys accomplish, and crack down on drug dealers and habitual criminals.

Provo police detective Hiatt Bean interacts with the county attorney's office several times a week and said he has been impressed with Buhman's professionalism. He said he has also appreciated working with the soon-to-be-former county attorney.

"(Bryson) has only treated me with courtesy and respect," Bean said. "I've seen good things from Mr. Bryson. I have seen ... the extra mile with Mr. Buhman in terms of having good relations. If there would be an improvement, it would just be (that) push for the extra mile."

Dealing with intense cases day after day can be unnerving, but Buhman said it helps to remind himself that, considering crimes per capita, Utah is a "very, very good state."

"You tend to view people on a police report, but if you're a part of your community it becomes easier to remember they aren't evil (people), they're (just people) doing stupid things," Buhman said. "A lot of good kids (do) stupid things."

Drug-related charges fill the dockets in Provo's 4th District Court and are part of most crimes. Thefts often occur when someone needs drug money and abuse or assaults often occur after someone has abused alcohol or drugs.

"(It's) a process," Buhman says. "You try to keep drugs out of the hands of people who are vulnerable ... increase treatment options and go after the dealers — take away the economic incentive."

Including the county attorney, in the office there are 17 attorneys who handle criminal cases and seven attorneys who deal with civil cases.

They're all hard-working and exceptionally qualified, Buhman said.

The office, which is paid for by taxpayer dollars, added two prosecutors last year and another prosecutor and a civil-case attorney this year. They are welcome additions, enabled by funding from county government officials, but the case load keeps growing.

"We hadn't had a tax increase (in the county) for a long time," Buhman said. "We're in a county that likes to have our taxes low. And that means sacrifices. But we're good at doing more with less."

Deputy county attorneys' salaries range from $41,000 to $70,000, depending on their years of experience. However, Buhman will pull in $105,378 after a recently approved raise from the Utah County Commission.

Buhman also serves in the Army National Guard as a major and an engineer. He transferred to the Training Site Command in December from the 19th Special Forces Group. He joined the Army Reserves about 10 years ago and has been in the Guard for about seven.

He's never been deployed, but if the call came, Buhman would have to take a break from his county job and transfer to his country's job.

"You do feel like you're really a part of something that's good for the country," Buhman said. "You're still part of the country's arsenal."

When he's not serving the country or the county, Buhman is shuttling kids to soccer games, dance lessons and school programs. The family likes to ski and has recently spent a lot of time outdoors landscaping a new Orem home. Rob Lund, assistant U.S. Attorney for Utah, has been friends with both Jeff and Camille Buhman for more than 16 years. While touting Buhman's leadership skills, he said there will be tough times ahead.

"He'll have to build and maintain that good rapport he has with law enforcement. That's going to be crucial to his success as a Utah County Attorney. Then, the big difficulty he's going to confront is how personnel in the office will relate to a new boss. Prosecutor's offices are inherently political places."

Bryson didn't return phone calls for comment or to talk about his future professional plans.

So, next week, Buhman will be jumping into a new office with lofty goals and grandiose plans.

He won't entertain discussions about plans beyond this term, however.

"I'll take it four years at a time," Buhman said.


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com