Taylor takes on Butikofer for Jefferson County Prosecutor
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RIGBY — Incumbent county prosecutor Paul Butikofer is being challenged by former federal prosecutor Mark Taylor.
Butikofer and Taylor are contending for the Republican nomination as voting continues in the May primary. Voters have until June 2 to return their absentee ballots. To learn more about their platforms, EastIdahoNews.com sent the same eight questions to each candidate. Their responses, listed below, were required to be 250 words or less.
Tell us about yourself — include information about your family, career, education, volunteer work and any prior experience in public office.
Butikofer: I was born and raised in Rigby and graduated from Rigby High School. I hold a bachelor’s in business from Boise State and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Idaho College of Law. I have over 26 years of experience in criminal, civil, and military law. I have prosecuted for a combined total of over ten years and did defense and private civil work for sixteen years. I have prosecuted or defended criminal cases in Ada, Canyon, Jefferson, Teton, Madison, and Fremont Counties. I also served in the United States Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps for six years. I have approximately 20 jury trials to verdict, to include a civil jury trial. I am currently married to my beautiful wife, and together, we have three children and nine grandchildren.
Taylor: I am a conservative Republican, Rigby resident, and an attorney at a law firm in Rexburg. Originally from St. George, I attended BYU-Provo on a Leadership Scholarship. Shortly after marrying my amazing wife, I began studying law and economics at the Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, VA, then investigated and prosecuted civil cases for the U.S. government in Washington, D.C. for 11 years. The annual evaluations of my legal skills and judgment consistently rated me “outstanding,” the highest possible. Life was good, but my wife, Elodie, and I decided that we wanted our four children to grow up in a rural area. We specifically wanted to make a home somewhere with conservative values rooted in personal liberty and self-reliance, so we chose to move our family to Jefferson County. I gave up my prestigious career and taught seminary at Rigby High School before joining the law firm Rigby, Andrus & Rigby.
My family and I love floating the dry bed and playing at Rigby Lake in the summer and skiing at Kelly Canyon and sledding in the winter. We love living between two beautiful LDS temples and feel that Jefferson county is a safe place to raise our four children. You can find out more about me and my family at: marktaylor4prosecutingattorney.com or search on Google for “YouTube Mark Taylor Prosecuting Attorney” to watch my “Meet the Candidate” video.
What are your proudest accomplishments in your personal life or career?
Butikofer: My proudest personal accomplishment is my family. They have been my rock and I could not do it without them. Professionally, my proudest accomplishment has been the establishment and implementation of our Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT). Crimes against children are the most difficult cases we handle. Many of the victims do not come forward until months or years after the abuse and most of the abuse happens behind closed doors. This means that we have to develop a case with little to no physical evidence. The victims are not only suffering from the trauma and grief of the original abuse, but must then go through the stress of criminal proceedings where they have to face their abuser. To help counter this, we utilize our MDT. The MDT is a team consisting of law enforcement, victim advocates, probation officers, and social workers who come together to solve and prosecute child crimes as a team. The differing backgrounds of the team members allows us to work together to develop evidence that would have otherwise been overlooked while ensuring the victims receive the necessary personal support. Nobody “wins” in these cases, but we will continue to work as hard as we can to let the victims know that someone is fighting for them.
Taylor: Some of my extended family call me “the golden boy” because, from their perspective, everything I touch succeeds and circumstances tend to turn miraculously to my advantage. What they do not see, though, is the high price I pay inwardly to cause things to go the way they do outwardly.
My greatest accomplishments so far involved sacrificing my self-pity, my self-justifications, and my pride. Although I have sometimes hesitated too long before letting these go, I got to that point eventually. The remains from those sacrifices were taken and buried with grace and dignity by my Maker in an Arlington-like cemetery in my soul.
My outward accomplishments are like the white crosses over those graves. They include a “rags to riches” tale of rising from a traumatic childhood in a lower-middle-class family to attend a top-tier law school; marrying a truly remarkable woman with whom I have four terrific children; and becoming a top 1% wage earner in a powerful government position, only to sacrifice that career too so my own family can have a challenge-blessed life in rural Idaho.
Briefly explain your political platform, and/or legislative goals if you are elected to office.
Butikofer: My goal is to promote and preserve community safety while maintaining the integrity of the criminal process. The Rules of Professional Conduct direct a prosecutor to be a “minister of justice,” and not merely an advocate for the State. I must ensure that cases are handled in a professional and ethical manner to safeguard the community as well as the rights of the accused. Prosecutors are constantly faced with difficult decisions where the correct answer may not be obvious. We get cases where there is no doubt that a crime occurred, but I cannot confidently say that the accused was the perpetrator. Political pressure wants its pound of flesh, but a responsible prosecutor will not take that from an innocent man. We also have cases where I am confident that the accused committed the act, but the cases may be unprovable. In those cases, we work with law enforcement to strengthen the case to ensure that prosecution is within the ethical standard before proceeding. My policy has been, and always will be, to follow the ethical rules and let work ethic make up for the rest.
It is also important to remember that Prosecutors do not make the laws. We enforce them. My office plays an important role in advising the County Commissioners and different departments on civil law issues. My goal in this arena is to ensure that they receive timely, competent legal advice at every stage of the process so that their vision can become policy.
Taylor: As Jefferson county continues to grow rapidly, I want to do my part to keep it the place we chose to live and raise our family. To accomplish this, I would work hard to:
- Solidify the partnership with law enforcement, continuing to build the relationship of mutual trust and respect we have started through our interviews. My office would also help train law enforcement in the aspects of the law where their prior cases might have fallen short of legal standards. Law enforcement is open to this. As a unified partnership, we would be more effective at working together to prosecute even the most difficult cases and protect our community.
- Correct the emphasis on criminal law at the expense of the County’s civil law needs. As discussed in greater detail below, I am offering my civil law expertise full-time so the criminal deputies can focus exclusively on criminal matters.
- Be accountable and transparent. I have heard complaints about the incumbent recently hiring a third, full-time criminal attorney without showing publicly that the office’s workload justifies it. When county commissioners and citizens have requested the current Prosecuting Attorney’s caseload records, his response has been that he does not keep track of that data. In other words, he cannot account for how he spends his time. I believe sunshine is a great disinfectant that should be generously applied to government. As your Prosecuting Attorney, I would act consistently with that belief.
What are the greatest challenges facing your county?
Butikofer: The greatest challenge I have recently dealt with is the pressure that the criminal process places on child victims. Many of the defendants we charge with sex crimes demand a preliminary hearing which requires the victim to testify in front of his/her abuser twice: once at the hearing and later at trial. This increased contact with the abusers re-traumatizes the victims and creates an incredible amount of anxiety about the upcoming trial. After numerous phone calls and meeting with the parents or guardians of these children, I decided to request a grand jury for these types of cases. A grand jury is a sealed proceeding where the victim testifies to the grand jury without the defendant present. If the grand jury believes that the victim’s testimony meets the probable cause standard, they will issue an indictment and we proceed to a plea agreement or trial with the victim only having to face the abuser once.
In the civil arena, the greatest challenge facing our county today is unprecedented growth. Idaho is one of the fastest-growing states and Jefferson County is one of the fastest-growing counties. This growth brings new people, business, and opportunities to our community, but it also pressures our infrastructure. The County Commissioners and Planning and Zoning Commission, are working tirelessly to address these issues. My office is aware of the issues identified by the commissioners and we are working with the current officials to ensure they receive timely legal advice at every step of the process.
Taylor: Jefferson County is one of the fastest growing counties in Idaho, the fastest growing state in the nation. Our growth has created a huge need for civil law enforcement and advice. Besides prosecuting criminal cases, the Prosecuting Attorney’s office is also the legal advisor on civil law issues to the County Commissioners and the other county departments (like Road & Bridge, Planning and Zoning, etc.).
Currently, there is a mismatch between the county’s tremendous civil law needs and the legal expertise the incumbent’s office can provide. With the recently hired, third, full-time criminal attorney, the county has access to more than enough criminal law ability. However, only one part-time deputy specializes in civil law issues, and the fact that he is also a part-time deputy in Bonneville County means that Jefferson County does not have his undivided time and attention. To try to fill the civil-law void, the incumbent has assigned one of his criminal deputies to spend less time prosecuting crime and more time advising Planning & Zoning. That is not that attorney’s expertise, and this is not an efficient use of the county’s legal resources. According to public records from Planning & Zoning, there are currently 13 cases, some of them dating back to 2017, that have been referred to the Prosecuting Attorney’s office but either no action has been taken or the case is still under review. The emphasis on criminal law at the expense of the County’s civil law needs must be corrected.
How is your experience better suited to dealing with these unique challenges than your competitor?
Butikofer: To quote Ronald Reagan, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” From the beginning, my goal has been to run a clean, positive campaign and I believe that my accomplishments over the last three and a half years show that we are doing very well. Over my twenty-six years of criminal law experience, I have prosecuted or defended all manner of criminal cases all over the State of Idaho. After thousands of hours spent with victims, witnesses, and criminal defendants, I developed a solid understand the human element that goes into the work. I understand the County’s history, people, and future, and know where we have been and where we are going. The position is also as much or more about leadership than anything else. As the elected official, I must manage three other attorneys and support staff. I have to interface and work with the public, supporting agencies and organizations, and different county departments. I could not do this without the wonderful people who work in my office. I have hired quality criminal deputies and Weston Davis, my civil deputy, is second to none. He has saved our county from unnecessary litigation over and over and our County is fortunate to have his experience and efforts. My opponent’s proposal to eliminate Mr. Davis’s position would be detrimental to the County. I hired quality, professional people, and I intent to let them continue to do quality, professional work.
Taylor: Along with my education in law and economics, I bring to the position 11 years investigating and prosecuting large civil cases for the FTC, as well as working in private practice in Idaho.
I have managed small teams of attorneys to investigate and bring large civil cases and screened new attorney applicants. These experiences equip me to manage the Prosecuting Attorney’s caseload, deputies, and staff.
I trained my fellow FTC attorneys on gathering electronic evidence, then was selected to prepare and conduct training for my civil law enforcement counterparts in 11 nations on how to plan and lead a civil investigation. My experience conducting successful civil law enforcement investigations and training other attorneys how to do likewise will be assets to the county’s civil law enforcement needs.
I am certified in the complex process of hiring and overseeing government contractors and drafting their contracts with the government. This experience has equipped me to prepare effective and enforceable contracts for the county.
In private practice in Idaho, I have advised large agricultural clients on how to structure their businesses to be more efficient, profitable, and compliant with the law. I have drafted revisions to agriculture-related state legislation, and currently represent multiple clients in various stages of civil litigation. This experience will benefit the county as I draft, revise, and enforce county ordinances and resolutions to promote economic growth and use tax dollars more efficiently.
More details on my experience in my video “My Experience.”
How will you best represent the views of your constituents – even those with differing political views?
Butikofer: The prosecutor’s job is to do justice and the prosecuting attorney has broad discretion on how to handle cases. We decide who to charge, what charges to bring, what plea agreements to offer, and what sentences to recommend. These decisions impact every facet of the involved peoples’ lives. We must recognize that every defendant is unique, but that justice requires equal treatment of similarly situated people. The political affiliation, religion, or demographics of the defendant or victim should never matter to a prosecutor. We are all equal under the law. That is my policy.
Taylor: Unlike other elected officials whose roles involve standing for the views of their constituents in voting on laws, the Prosecuting Attorney does not have a “vote” in such things, so in that sense cannot “represent” the voters’ views at all. However, the Prosecuting Attorney represents “the People” as a whole—the public—in enforcing the laws. Viewed in this light, the Prosecuting Attorney’s client is justice itself.
While furthering justice is the primary role of the Prosecuting Attorney, practical considerations prevent every violation of every law from being pursued. The Prosecuting Attorney must exercise discretion (good judgment) and be a good problem solver at every step of the law enforcement process: from investigating the first complaint through trial and beyond. Many practical considerations influence the prosecutor’s decisions—some more valid than others. Voters should ask themselves which candidate they believe has the heart and the mind NOT to be influenced in his decisions by long-established ties to friends, family, businesses, or political allies, but rather by what is best for the public interest as a whole.
From my perspective, the best part of being the attorney for the People (a role I filled for more than 11 years) is that it’s not so much about “winning” or “losing” cases—it is about making sure that every judgment call is made in the public’s interest, not special interests. It is really about making the right decision at each step. When that happens, everyone (including those with differing political views) benefits.
How do you plan to improve relationships with other elected officials in your county and with state legislative officials?
Butikofer: That is a good question. It is important to understand that as Prosecuting Attorney, I do not make the laws or set the policies for the other elected officials. My job is to provide legal advice to them to assist them in dealing with their own internal issues. Our County’s unprecedented growth provides a wonderful opportunity to work with our County Commissioners and Planning and Zoning commission on the creation of new land use ordinances. These policymakers are elected or appointed to bring the vision and set the policy for the County going forward. It is my job to ensure they get the best legal support available during this process so that the final product is legally sound. We are serving the County’s needs and will continue to do so as our County grows.
Where the overwhelming majority of the work done in county prosecutors’ office is criminal, the Prosecuting Attorney works with the County Sheriff as much or more than any other official. We are fortunate to have such a professional and competent Sheriff in Jefferson County. Sheriff Anderson previously issued a statement relating to our relationship. However, like all professional relationships, everyone must work and do their part. My goal is to continue to work with our local law enforcement agencies to provide legal support, training, and guidance so that local law enforcement can keep pace with our growing population.
Taylor: The same way I work to improve all my relationships: through lots of honest communication and showing trust, respect, and courtesy.
Before I decided to run for this office, I conducted my own informal investigation, speaking with people involved in county affairs, including elected officials, law enforcement, and involved citizens. I would continue building relationships throughout the county like those that I have started building through my interviews.
What are your views regarding the role of the media in covering your county? How can you best work with local reporters to ensure coverage of the issues?
Butikofer: The First Amendment is one of our most important rights that must be safeguarded. I appreciate the role that the media plays in keeping our government’s actions honest and transparent. This is especially true of the criminal justice system and how the State penalizes members of our community. However, in dealing with the media, the office of the Prosecuting Attorney is different from other elected officials. Rule 3.8(f) of the Idaho Rules of Conduct limits what I can say during a criminal proceeding. Generally speaking, I am limited from making statements that might increase the public condemnation of the accused. The policy behind the rule is to ensure a person receives a fair trial with an impartial jury, and to ensure the State does not use public ridicule as a weapon. I am also bound by attorney/client privilege on County civil matters and must limit my statements to the media to comply with that rule. That being said, most court proceedings are open to the public and I will always do my best to support public access to the truth.
Taylor: Historically, the media’s role is to report the facts without bias and to serve as a nonpartisan watchdog against any government infringement on our rights and liberties. Law enforcement investigations and trials have a similar function—to discover the truth (without which there can be no justice) and to ensure the government does not deprive us of our rights to liberty and property beyond what justice requires.
Law enforcement (including the Prosecuting Attorney) and the press can help each other in their respective roles: the Prosecuting Attorney has the powers of the state to help discover the truth about alleged violations of the law, and the media has the ability to publish that information and to hold government accountable.
One of the major points of my campaign is the need for greater transparency and accountability from the Prosecuting Attorney’s office. While there are legal limits to what can be disclosed, I believe that government should be as transparent and accountable as possible. Sunshine is a great disinfectant at all levels of government, including Jefferson County. Similarly, the press has a duty to the public and to itself not to become corrupted by bias or inaccuracies in its reporting, which undermines the public’s trust in a given news source.
Local reporters who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to earning and maintaining the public’s trust by understanding the issues, and reporting with exactness and without bias, will find in me a willing source of information to the extent permissible under the law.