War of words: Jefferson County prosecutor race heats up
RIGBY — Local elections are heating up as candidates begin to spar.
Jefferson County prosecutor candidate Mark Taylor didn’t take kindly to a letter that incumbent candidate Paul Butikofer is circulating. The letter blasts some of Taylor’s remarks taken from a mailer Taylor sent to potential voters early this month.
“The letter sets up extreme positions, misrepresents that they are my positions, and then shoots them down, rather than addressing the real issues that I’ve actually raised. It is a dishonest and inappropriate attempt to paint a caricature of me that does not resemble who I am or what I stand for,” Taylor told EastIdahoNews.com.
The letter Butikofer’s campaign is circulating carries the name of 23 other attorneys, including Ammon Mayor Sean Coletti.
“We typically stay out of prosecutorial races because, in our experience, these races are usually between experienced candidates with differing, but solid, policy objectives or backgrounds. However, in the case of Jefferson County, we feel an obligation to weigh in,” the letter states.
In the mailer Taylor sent out at the beginning of the month, he explained his platform and criticized Butikofer’s actions as prosecutor.
One of the primary areas where he criticized Butikofer is his handling of difficult cases where guilt is difficult to prove.
“I have spoken to law enforcement, and I am concerned by what they have shared. I have also spoken to several citizens about their perceptions. The recurring theme is that the incumbent has a hard time telling the good guys from the bad guys; choosing to often prosecute felonies as misdemeanors while going after good people on technicalities,” Taylor said in the mailer.
Taylor told voters he would work to make sure more cases that law enforcement brings to him are prosecuted.
“It’s the judge’s job to decide the case — the prosecutor’s job is to bring them,” according to the mailer.
Taylor told EastIdahoNews.com he has updated his original mailer since first sending it out at the beginning of April. The new mailer gives a bit more credit to the prosecutor’s office regarding the cases Butikofer has chosen not to prosecute.
“I have also heard from the incumbent’s office that in such cases, the police work is inadequate, and they cannot in good conscience bring the case — doing so could be unlawful or unethical. They argue that refusing to bring such cases is the only way for them to do their duty,” the updated mailer says.
He goes on to say in the updated mailer that he hopes to work with law enforcement so he can prosecute more difficult cases.
Taylor wasn’t only critical of Butikofer’s prosecutorial decisions, but also his history as a public defender.
“The incumbent’s background is as a criminal defender, and there’s nothing wrong with that — our legal system needs criminal defenders — just not sitting in the prosecutor’s chair,” the mailer states.
The writer of the letter being circulated by Butikofer’s campaign took issue with Taylor’s criticisms of Butikofer.
“Over his 26 years of experience, many of us have personally worked with Mr. Butikofer or the attorneys in his office on civil and criminal cases,” the letter says.
It says that over the years Butikofer has earned a strong reputation with many attorneys in the area.
“His opponent’s statement that his background as a public defender should disqualify him from holding the office of prosecutor is startling and shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the criminal process,” the letter states.
Butikofer’s history as a public defender gave him experience in critiquing police work and understanding defendants, according to the letter, and he would not have gotten this experience if he hadn’t spent time as a public defender.
“We have also reviewed Mr. Taylor’s policy stating that a prosecutor should charge a case when the case has issues with the evidence because it is the responsibility of the judge, not the prosecutor, to decide the case. We could not object to this position more strenuously. Rule 3.8(a) of the Idaho Rules of Professional Conduct specifically addresses this and is very clear that a prosecutor must be a minister of justice and take special precautions to avoid the conviction of innocent persons,” the letter reads.
The writer says most wrongfully convicted individuals had cases against them supported by probable cause.
“It takes a prosecutor with courage and experience to make difficult charging decisions. Paul Butikofer has both,” according to the letter.
Taylor said the letter misrepresented his criticisms of Butikofer in his mailer and suggested Butikofer’s campaign wrote the letter.
“The incumbent’s letter is written in the same style and tone as other writings that his campaign has written then had others sign. Each one starts out by claiming the writer wants to stay out of politics, then feigns that the issues are too serious to stay neutral. It is a rhetorical tactic that might have worked the first time but is growing old by the third,” Taylor said.
He said the letter mischaracterized what he said about Butikofer’s decisions on what cases to prosecute.
“Of course you don’t bring the case when it is obvious you have the wrong person,” Taylor said. “Those are not the cases that I am talking about, and the writer of that letter knows it.”
He said prosecutors are rarely given cases where the evidence of guilt is without question.
“The prosecuting attorney’s office has to be willing to bring challenging cases, let the defense attorneys do their own job, and let the judge or the jury decide what is ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ in their own minds,” Taylor said.
Taylor argued he didn’t say that Butikofer’s past should disqualify him — rather, his way of thinking as a public defender affects how he prosecutes cases.
“This is the incumbent’s expertise and how he has practiced law for many years. This engrained way of thinking about cases did not magically change when he became prosecuting attorney less than four years ago,” Taylor said.
Taylor also questioned the motivations of the attorneys who signed Butikofer’s letter.
“Of the 23 attorneys who the incumbent claims have endorsed his misrepresentations, 11 of them come from just two law firms, one of which is deputy Weston Davis’ firm; one of the attorneys had his law license suspended by the Idaho Supreme Court for 90 days back in 2014, and the majority of them are criminal defense attorneys,” Taylor said.
Davis is a deputy prosecutor for Jefferson County who, as part of his duties as a deputy prosecutor, gives legal advice to the Jefferson County commissioners.