Bonneville County Prosecutor ‘humbled’ and ‘torn’ as he prepares for new position
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IDAHO FALLS – As Daniel Clark prepares to step down as Bonneville County Prosecutor to become a magistrate judge in Jefferson County, he’s feeling a mixed bag of emotions.
“I’m very excited, I’m very nervous,” Clark says in a conversation with EastIdahoNews.com. “I’ve (worked in the prosecutor’s office) for half my life. I’ve been doing this a lot longer than anyone ever and so I’m torn with that and the feelings I have here. I feel very ordinary with a very extraordinary responsibility.”
Clark was hired in December by The Magistrate Commission to replace Jefferson County Magistrate Judge Robert L. Crowley, who retired on Dec. 31. Clark will officially be sworn in and take the bench on Feb. 24.
The Bonneville County Republican Central Committee will nominate three people to temporarily fill the vacancy in the prosecutor’s office during a meeting on Feb. 10. Whoever is selected will fill that role until January 2023 when the candidate selected by voters in the November general election takes office.
Clark, who was re-elected as prosecutor in 2020, describes his Jefferson County predecessor as “the salt of the earth.”
“Other than perhaps some family member you’re endeared to, you would have a hard time knowing a better man,” Clark says of Crowley.
Clark has worked with Crowley numerous times as they’ve been involved in some of the same cases together. He has particularly fond memories of working with Crowley when Crowley was a public defender in Jefferson County more than a decade ago.
“Judge Kennedy and Judge Crowley are the two magistrate judges in Jefferson County I’ve ever dealt with,” says Clark. “I’m very cognizant of the great men that have been in that seat and that’s a very humbling thing.”
Highlights and memorable cases
Clark got his start in Bonneville County nearly 20 years ago after graduating from the University of Idaho School of Law.
“I prosecuted up in Lewiston in Nez Perce County while I was still in law school,” Clark recalls.
He became a deputy prosecutor under then Prosecuting Attorney Dane Watkins in August 2002. He continued to work through the ranks, eventually serving as Chief Deputy. Clark was first appointed as the county prosecutor in 2015 after Bruce Pickett was elected as a District Judge.
As Clark looks back on his decision to pursue a law career, he says he’s never really thought of doing anything else.
“It’s always been something I was passionate about,” Clark explains. “Back in junior high or high school, I took one of those tests (that tells you what career would be a good fit for you). One was a lawyer, one was a judge and the other was a coach. So I like to joke that this is what I was supposed to do because the test told me to.”
The Chris Tapp case was in full swing when Clark first took office in 2015. He and his team were instrumental in Tapp’s exoneration and Brian Dripp’s conviction, which he cites as one of the most notable cases he was involved in.
He also cites the Stephanie Eldredge case and the conviction of Kenneth Jones, who pleaded guilty to killing her in 2007, as another one of his greatest accomplishments.
“One of the things I’m the most proud of is the opioid lawsuit (in 2018),” says Clark.
In December, the Associated Press reported Idaho was one of numerous states that would be receiving a settlement in a national lawsuit addressing damage wrought by opioids, which the federal government declared a public health emergency in 2017.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Governor Brad Little announced in August the state would accept the agreement and become eligible for up to $119 million.
“What you probably don’t know is we filed a lawsuit against the opioid manufacturers 12-18 months before the state ever did. Bonneville County filed that suit and I was a part of helping push that to happen and so we just got the announcement of the first of three lawsuits,” Clark says. “Money will start flowing into local governments probably this spring.”
Looking to the future
Though he’s been involved in a lot of satisfying and gratifying work as a prosecutor, Clark says dealing with many emotional cases like child molestation and homicides takes a toll and he’s ready for something different.
Clark speaks highly of his camaraderie and working relationship with his colleagues in the prosecutor’s office and with the defense bar. His role as a judge will require him to professionally distance himself from these relationships and those are the things he’s going to miss most.
“I’ll miss that interaction with my colleagues and I’ll struggle with that. I enjoy that part of the job,” Clark says.
On the other hand, Clark grew up between Rigby and Ucon and he’s looking forward to catching up with old friends and acquaintances, living closer to his parents, and attending Rigby High School football games.
The idea of the justice system being “a perfect clash” between the framework of the Constitution and the rights of the individual is something Clark firmly believes in and he’s tried to find a balance between those two things as much as possible. As a judge, Clark says that balancing act is amplified because it’s his “sole duty.” He’s looking forward to that change.
His goal is to serve honorably and with integrity and he’s hoping to move some cases through more quickly.
“I can’t think of a more noble endeavor than that,” he says. “Our citizens deserve the best we have in terms of what our judges bring to the table. Try as I might, I feel very flawed in being able to deliver that but it also drives me to excel … and be the best judge I can be for those folks.”